There was applause at the end of last night’s Joyfield township board meeting… the first hint of optimism there in some time. For the last year, a proposed commercial wind farm has divided the rural township in southern Benzie County.
More than one person commented that this was the first time they could remember that the Joyfield Township Board meeting began with the pledge of allegiance.
As it turned out, much of the meeting had a different feeling.
“You know what the most encouraging thing is?” asks Mary Straubel. “To actually hear the board discuss anything about the wind project, or the moratorium, or zoning.”
Straubel helped organize the successful recall of three members of the Joyfield Township board in November. Recall supporters claimed the three had conflicts of interest when it came to Duke Energy’s Gail Windpower project.
Duke Energy wants to build a commercial wind farm that would place large wind turbines in four townships in Benzie and Manistee Counties – including Joyfield Township. Each of the recalled board members had a lease agreement with Duke Energy to put turbines on their property.
After November’s recall, three new board members were appointed to sit-in until a special election could be held in February. Last night was the board’s first meeting since that recall.
Appointee Ken Fallowfield is now the township supervisor and he saw this first meeting as an opportunity to start a new chapter in the township.
“Everybody’s polarized on this issue,” he says. “It’s a big issue for our township and it needs to be addressed. Sticking our heads in the sand is not going to work.”
Each board member shared some of their thoughts concerning the wind project: whether a moratorium is appropriate, or if the township should look at zoning.
Since last April, the township has been without zoning, and some feel that opened the door to unregulated projects, such as the one proposed by Duke. The previous board also refused to enact a moratorium, citing advice from an attorney.
Those behind the recall pointed to that lack of action as a sign that the board wasn’t listening to township residents.
Straubel says this new board is already showing signs that they’re listening.
“They’re interested in everyone’s rights,” she says. “They want to make it fair.”
Still A Hot Debate
Susan Zenker was against the recent recall, and has lease agreements with Duke Energy for her property. She wants to be optimistic about the new board and the future of the wind project, but is also trying to be realistic.
She says the wind project has created deep division in the township and isn’t sure the township board will be able to bring the two sides back together.
“They want to take both sides into consideration,” she says. “That’s going to be very, very hard to do because each side is so well defined. No. Yes. There hasn’t been any middle, even with us talking to each other.”
And the middle is exactly where Fallowfield and the other board members planted themselves at last night’s meeting. Towards the end of the meeting, each took a turn to say that they want more information before any decisions are made.
The winners of February’s special election will serve until the general election next November.