BAD AXE – Wind wasn’t a topic on Tuesday’s Huron County Board of Commissioners regular meeting agenda, but it took center stage. The zoning director addressed the board regarding allegations he made contradictory statements about being paid by a wind developer to give a presentation to a planning commission that’s wrestling with wind zoning issues on the southeast side of the state.
Members of Citizens for Wind Energy, a local pro-wind organization, got wind of the issue and a number of individuals attended Tuesday’s meeting in support of Russ Lundberg in reaction to an e-mail Louis J. Colletta, of Lake Township, sent county commissioners.
The e-mail contained a link to a video clip on YouTube showing a portion of a Dec. 16, 2010 Riga Township Planning Commission meeting where Lundberg was asked who was paying him to attend the meeting.
“I really don’t think that’s important,” he said, which was followed by some laughs/jeers in the audience. “Who is paying my expenses? I can tell you who is paying my expenses,” Lundberg then added. “It’s the people who came – who asked me to come here.”
“Who? Who?” questioned people from the audience.
“John Deere,” he replied, as Doug Duimering, business development manager for Exelon Generation Company, LLC, a subsidiary of Exelon Corporation (which purchased John Deere Renewables, LLC Dec. 11, 2010), raised his hand in answer to the question.
The two then explained that in the planning/development process, it is not uncommon for developers to pay for meetings.
“In Huron County … and many other communities throughout the state of Michigan, just because a developer pays for a meeting, doesn’t mean that it’s bad,” Lundberg said. “Now if a developer asks for a special meeting in Huron County, I collect a fee from that individual. If someone is asking for a special meeting, the fee is greater for a special meeting than if they were attending a regular meeting and just making a comment. I have to pay my planning commission members a per diem and I have to pay my planning commission members a mileage stipend. And so yes, someone is paying my expenses to come here and go home. But I am not an employee of John Deere. Until Nov. 26, I was an employee of Huron County. So I guess that means I am unemployed in this position.”
Duimering agreed with Lundberg that there wasn’t anything out of the norm in this situation.
“We’ve done this before and it’s our understanding, it’s done on projects throughout the state,” he said.
In his e-mail, Colletta states the video shows a direct contradiction to what Lundberg told county commissioners during the board’s Dec. 28, 2010 meeting where Lundberg was rehired to serve part time as the zoning director.
During that meeting, Lundberg said he attended the Riga Township planning commission meeting on his own time, paid his own expenses and it was a precursor to a presentation he will make to the Michigan Townships Association later this month. He said he did it as a favor to Brion Dickens. Dickens serves on the Oliver Township Planning Commission and co-owns Great Lakes Wind, LLC, a community-based wind energy company in Lenawee County.
Lundberg, Dickens clarify statements
Dickens told Huron County commissioners that he asked Lundberg to attend the Riga Township meeting as a favor, and there was no discussion of Lundberg being paid for his attendance.
“It was my company that asked (Lundberg), with the Riga Township board, if he would be able to speak on his own free time, his own free will, as he was separated from the county at that time … (and) I have letters that will state very proudly that we did not pay (Lundberg) to do anything. We have letters coming from Exelon, our new partners in that project, stating (Lundberg) did not do anything questionable. (Lundberg) did it out of the goodness of his heart and the friendship we’ve had for the last 18 years.”
Dickens said he originally is from Lenawee County and has lived in Huron County for the past 18 years. He formed Great Lakes Wind, LLC with 10 others from Michigan who have vested quite a lot of money into building a project in Lenawee County. He said Great Lakes Wind, LLC owns 50 percent of the project he is trying to develop and the other half is owned by Exelon (formerly John Deere).
Lundberg told the Tribune that, during the Riga Township meeting, when he was asked who invited him to speak, he was trying to be honest in that “John Deere asked me, (and) as far as I know, maybe my expenses would be paid and maybe not.”
The issue didn’t come up during the rest of the Riga Township meeting and he didn’t hear about it until he was asked by Commissioner Clark Elftman during the Dec. 28, 2010 meeting who paid Lundberg to attend the meeting.
He said he indirectly gave the same answer at the Huron County meeting in that he never really got paid to go to the meeting, and he did go as a favor to Dickens.
“It was a non-issue,” he said.
Lundberg speaks out against allegations
“During my 35 year planning career, I have seen many successful projects resulting in many benefits to communities where I worked, including wind farm development in Huron County,” said Lundberg, as he read an open letter to the board Tuesday. “I will not let my good name and reputation, along with that of many others in Huron County, be sullied by all this nonsense. And, I for one, intend to defend myself, this county and my record.”
Throughout his years in Huron County, Lundberg said, he’s received constant support from the board of commissioners, its planning commission and township officials.
“This county has led the way in Michigan with its ‘pro-wind’ policies, evidenced by Michigan’s first two wind farms, Harvest Windfarm and Michigan Wind 1, and now its two new overlay districts being readied for more development,” he said.
There have been many accusations about his involvement in the wind industry throughout the years, Lundberg noted.
“I’ve ignored the sniping and lies about being in the pocket of big wind. I’ve tried to stay above responding to this type of accusatory nonsense,” he continued. “Nearly six years ago, teachers at Lakers High School laughingly told my wife of rumors stating that Noble Power helped build our new home. It was slanderous and without merit. In fact, our home was built many years prior to Noble Power arriving in Huron County. We laughed about this at that time, never foreseeing that this type of slander would continue. I seem to get ripped by bloggers every time my name appears in the local newspaper. Getting paid by wind companies appears to be a common theme, again without evidence and simply nonsense.”
Lundberg said when he appeared at the special Riga Township Planning Commission meeting, he was invited indirectly by the Riga Township Planning Commission and directly through Duimering and Dickens.
“ … I presented an updated PowerPoint presentation about the Huron County experience with wind energy, which was a dry run for an updated presentation at the upcoming Michigan Township Association Educational Conference in Grand Rapids,” Lundberg explained. “I have given this same type of presentation at a minimum of four other educational conferences throughout Michigan, from Traverse City to Detroit’s Cobo Hall.”
Lundbergs say they’ve been targeted
At the Riga Township meeting, some people opposed to wind turbines brought signs. One stated, “Lundberg Go Home” in large lettering. Lundberg said fliers with a colored aerial photograph of Sand Point that illustrated the location of Lundberg’s home were openly distributed. They asked the question: How many turbines can be seen from Lundberg’s backyard?”
“This tactic may seem cute, but it is disturbing at best, and from a legal point of view, the practice borders on stalking, which is illegal,” he said. “When Riga Township Planning Commission is interested in our experience with wind energy, we need to question who might have distributed the map of where I live and the sign with big letter(ing) stating ‘Lundberg Go Home.’ This was to have been an educational experience for Riga Township Planning Commission members, not a ‘for or against’ wind farm development seminar.”
Lundberg’s wife, Diane, told county commissioners she is worried about her husband’s safety and the safety of the couple’s home.
“We all know what happened in Arizona two days ago, we all know what happened when the man got the gun into a school board meeting (last year). I worry. (Russ Lundberg) doesn’t. I have said before we should hire (councel) and go after these people who are slandering his name, my name, because I am worried. He said, ‘No, you don’t want to make waves,’” she said.
While it’s obvious there can’t be any wind farms on Sand Point, because it’s a residential area, there was a red dot on the maps showing where the Lundbergs live, Diane Lundberg said.
“That really worried me because now I’m worried about my home and my family,” she said. “That they’re passing out a map of my home to strangers, and you don’t know who’s not stable.”
Diane Lundberg said Lundberg’s been dedicated to planning for 35 years, and now he is being “questioned by a couple of people who are anti-wind and I’ll say bullies, it’s the same group of people.”
“And the board is really listening to them and not really doing their homework on what really happened? He hasn’t, I haven’t, gotten any money from John Deere,” she continued. “He is an environmental planner. He personally thinks that wind is one of the green ways to go. And so I just wonder, is the board listening to a few? Do they forget the vote that was (held) in November. Are they afraid of a map with their home with a red dot being passed around in Huron County?”
Supporters rally behind Lundberg
Colletta was not at Tuesday’s meeting and the discussion/issue was not on the meeting agenda. None of those in attendance spoke against wind or negatively about Lundberg.
All of those who did speak were in support of Lundberg and were upset by the allegations against Lundberg and actions by individuals in the local anti-wind sector.
Dickens was frustrated because he said people from Huron County have gone to the areas his company is trying to develop and have slandered the project.
“We’re all Michigan people, we’re all trying to promote Michigan. We even want to use turbines made in Michigan,” he said. “And we’re just getting nothing but fighting that is basically being supported by people from this county. And I guess we’re all getting tired of it.”
“We’ve all been beat up on, I’m getting tired of it,” said Bernie Creguer, a member of the Huron County Planning Commission.
Planning Commission Chairman Ted Sheldon, along with board member Arthur Priebe, also spoke in support of Lundberg.
Gary Bauer, Brokeridge Land Company realtor and leasing agent for DTE Energy in the area, said Lundberg is one of the most professional zoning officials he’s ever worked with and felt wind opponents in the area are taking things too far.
“I think somebody needs to take them to the mat or they need to be ignored a little bit if they’re not looking at the facts objectively,” he said.
Chairman: County has to
listen to everyone
Board Chairman Ron Wruble noted county commissioners have to listen to every citizen in this county, no matter how outlandish others feel their opinions are.
“We can’t shut anyone off. This is America, you have a right to speak your mind,” he said, noting slander is another matter, and it is an issue taken up in court, not by the county board of commissioners.
Following the meeting, Wruble told the Tribune if there’s a concern, it’s the board’s duty to find out the facts. The matter was assigned to the Personnel Committee for review.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding