MANISTEE – Many passionate issues come before the county commissioners, but it’s rare that they get loudly booed over making a decision.
However, that was the response they received from an overflow crowd comprised of Manistee and Benzie county residents that filled the commissioners meeting room of the courthouse and government center Tuesday morning. Those attending the meeting gave that response after they witnessed the commissioners vote 4-3 to support a resolution to encourage wind development in Manistee County. Not only were the commissioners booed for that decision, they were also the targets of some strong comments from the opponents of the resolution as they left the meeting following the vote.
The full county board had the issue brought to its attention by ways and means committee members who discussed it a week ago at their meeting. During that meeting, committee members Ervin Kowalski and Glenn Lottie voted to bring it to the full board for consideration, while Jim Krolczyk said he wanted more information before taking a stand on the issue.
One of the many objections to the resolution was that people felt it should be an issue that was decided by the townships and not the county board. The resolution that was passed on Tuesday still does not take that power away from the townships who have the ultimate decision in the matter.
A total of 16 people addressed the commissioners on the issue including Arcadia Township resident Douglas Carter who spoke on behalf of the Arcadia Wind Study Group. He said the group was started in December 2010 to get educated about industrial wind turbines and the impact they could have on the community.
“Our supporters are young, old, retired, working, tradesmen, professionals, local and seasonal residents and represent the whole political spectrum,” said Carter. “Our educational efforts are wholly funded by small donations from this group of supporters.”
Carter told the commission that the news they have been hearing about the financial windfall from wind turbines is not exactly true.
“What brings me here today is a resolution you are being asked to support on the supposition that wind energy is green, benign and will solve our economic woes,” said Carter. “Members of the commission, I submit to you that none of these are true, but rather wind energy is in fact largely a financial windfall for large corporations, large banks and fabulously wealthy private investors.”
Carter also cited health issues from turbines, and the fact that very few permanent jobs would be created in the long run to maintain the 87 turbines that are planned for a proposed wind farm.
“It would mean the creation of seven or eight jobs in both Manistee and Benzie counties and a similar number would be created by a medium-size lawn care service business,” said Carter.
Carter also accused former county commissioner and chair Allan O’Shea of misleading the commission on the issue.
“The authorship of the resolution which brought me here today is attributable to Allan O’Shea a former member of this commission,” said Carter. “He is a paid agent of Duke Energy. Mr. O’Shea is asking each of you to trust him, totally without question as to the merits of this resolution. I assure each of you that this resolution contains factual errors, half truths and misleading statements.”
O’Shea later spoke to the commission and said he wasn’t going to address all the accusations he had heard during the meeting. However, he did say he felt the resolution was not about one specific project.
“It’s not about any special project, it’s about looking at wind energy countywide,” said O’Shea. “It is about fiscal responsibility, as wind is a clean resource. You are not being asked to approve a wind farm today.”
Arcadia Township Supervisor Tom Wass said he was stunned when he heard the county was considering a resolution.
“This is township business,” said Wass. “I spent a lot of hours studying this issue and where did this come from? Reading this resolution, it looks like it came from Duke Energy.”
Wass said he was concerned that if the county passed the resolution, it could be used to usurp the power of the townships with the state.
“Duke Energy could go to the state with this resolution and say the townships are not doing anything and get the state to force it on them,” said Wass.
Wass drew a round of applause when he said that one of the ridges where turbines are proposed is one of the most beautiful sites in the township. He said the view shouldn’t be ruined by turbines.
Speaking in favor
Even though the majority in attendance took the stance that a resolution would be a bad idea, not everyone was opposed to it. Many spoke passionately about the benefits of a resolution like City of Manistee resident Dick Albee who said he supports the development of wind energy. He encouraged the commissioners to get educated on the matter and said he feels the development would boost Manistee’s economy.
“You have to know the difference between fact and fiction,” said Albee. “Getting educated is a good idea, but it is easy to promote fiction. It is going to create jobs and strengthen our economy.”
Another who spoke in favor of the measure was Carol Voigts who cited five points on why she thought it would help the county. Voigts also said that she had visited the McBain wind farm and didn’t find anything wrong with it. She also spoke out strongly against the opposition, some of whom kept interrupting her with their own comments as she tried to make her points.
“I sat here quietly and listened to you talk, so you should give me the same respect,” said Voigts.
Manistee County residents Mike and Sue Ennis spoke against the measure saying they felt the true story about what people would see from the turbines hasn’t been portrayed to the public. They said it should be up to the townships to make changes in zoning and not the county. Sue Ennis said that there is an ordinance where nothing over 42 feet high could be constructed in the township and wonders where a 500-foot tower fits in.
“One of the things portrayed by Duke Energy in their advertisements is this nice countryside with children playing by the turbines, but what they don’t show is the transmission lines and all of those things,” said Mike Ennis.
A total of 16 people spoke to the commissioners on the issue with 13 speaking against the measure while three spoke out in favor of it. When the comments had concluded, the commissioners began their discussion on the matter.
“I think it should be left to the townships,” said commissioner Ken Hilliard. “I have two townships in my district who have been dealing with it for over a year, and it should be up to them to decide.”
Commissioner Carl Rutske said he didn’t feel they should be hasty in making a decision.
“I would like to have more time to study it so I can decide if I want to vote yes or no,” said Rutske. “Why can’t we table it for 30 to 60 days to talk about it.”
Richard Schmidt said he felt the wording of the resolution would keep the ultimate decision in the hands of the townships. He cited the paragraph, ‘Now, therefore it be resolved that the county of Manistee supports the development of one or more utility scale wind farms in the county and encourages the townships in the county to make land use decisions that encourage wind farm development while providing appropriate and reasonable protections for public health, safety and welfare,” as why he was supporting that position.
“Our resolution says we are turning it back to the townships,” said Schmidt. “So, it is going to be up to the townships.”
Commissioner Glenn Lottie, who was participating in the meeting via phone because his wife was having surgery, said he felt the same way on the issue. Commissioner policy forbids a commissioner from taking part in a meeting via phone unless it is first approved by the full board. That permission was given prior to discussion by the full board.
“It is a benign resolution,” said Lottie. “I am in favor of alternative energy, and I would rather see wind than coal or nuclear.”
Hilliard argued that he didn’t see how this was different from the stance the commissioners took on the recent Off Road Vehicle ordinance where they said it was a township issue.
“What is the difference?” asked Hilliard. “You can’t sit on both sides of the fence.”
When the question was called, the measure was supported by Kowalski, Rutske, Lottie and Schmidt. Opposing it were Hilliard, Krolczyk and Anderson.