Saugatuck Township Planning Commission Extends Fracking Moratorium
At its meeting on Monday, the Saugatuck Township Planning Commission resolved to request an additional six-month moratorium on fracking.
During this time period the township officials said they want to continue reviewing the basis for a possible fracking ordinance, either as additions to existing zoning ordinances or an over-arching ordinance covering many zoning aspects.
Approved back in July, the existing moratorium expires January 2014.
The planning commission further decided to send its proposed ordinance changes concerning private roads back to the Saugatuck Township Board as it had originally proposed.
This action came after the township board expressed concerns the ordinance was too rigid and harsh on property owners, primarily on the section concerning the salvaging of trees.
The board had sent the document to the planning commission for further review.
For example, during the board’s last meeting earlier this month, Saugatuck Township Supervisor Bill Wester pointed out that the ordinance had language that would preserve too many different kind of trees so as to place “handcuffs” on property owners.
“It’s everything we grow here,” said Wester.
To which Saugatuck Township Zoning Administrator Al Ellingsen responded with, “It (the ordinance change proposal) says (the zoning administrator) ‘may’ - not ‘shall’ - (enforce the salvaging of all those trees).”
Planners echoed his sentiment.
The private road ordinance requires, aside from a primary access, an emergency access for developments consisting of more than 30 dwelling units. The ordinance also requires a second private access for developments of more than 50 dwelling units.
In another move to improve ordinance language, the township board earlier this month did approve the planning commission’s recommendations concerning a sign ordinance.
That modification provided a more clear and consistent definition of a sign so that the structure and all its components that maintain, hold, or otherwise frames a sign is also included in the very definition of what a sign is.
With regards to fracking, the planning commission established a sub-committee to look into the controversial practice which entails a process of injecting a mixture of sand, water and various chemicals at high pressure to free oil and natural gas found deep underground in shale formations.
Planning members and township officials admit that establishing local regulation for fracking is a tricky issue, particularly when there are certain areas of the activity that are protected by state and federal laws.
“It’s not a simple thing,” Saugatuck Township Clerk Brad Rudich told Observer Newspapers Tuesday.
“There are peripheral activities that we control that involve aspects of the road ordinance, the wetland ordinance and wellhead protection zoning. The question is do we (go about regulating it) as one, overarching ordinance or do we do it piecemeal addressing different sections of those ordinances.”
Rudich continued, “The subcommittee has agreed we should do it piecemeal because otherwise it would be—or appear to be—targeting the industry itself, something that could serve as a basis for a legal challenge.”
The township board will tackle the issue at its next meeting in January.