REESE – Gilford Township officials issued a permit for five more wind turbines Tuesday night – bringing the total to 68 approved for construction there – following a contentious 4 1/2-hour public hearing that saw one spectator led away in handcuffs by a police officer for disorderly conduct.
The Planning Commission in the township in northwest Tuscola County voted 3-0, with Chairman Dennis Richards and member Kent A. Houghtaling abstaining, to approve a special-use permit allowing Florida-based NextEra Energy to build the five wind turbines. In December, Planning Commission members approved a plan for 63 wind turbines.
The hearing in December saw about 130 people cram the Gilford Township Hall, but Tuesday’s hearing in the Reese High School auditorium drew about 230, including an attorney and an acoustical consultant representing Gilford Wind Watch, a group opposing wind turbines in the township.
Derik N. Harmon, 43, of Gilford, an opponent of the wind turbines, was arrested for disorderly conduct by Reese Police Department Patrolman Chris Whetstone, who warned Harmon to quit interrupting the hearing after Harmon yelled from the audience at an attorney on the auditorium stage who interrupted a presentation by Gilford Wind Watch attorney Gary D. Strauss of Royal Oak.
Harmon, seated near the rear of the auditorium, later made other remarks from his seat, causing Whetstone to approach him again and place him in custody.
“This is police brutality,” Harmon declared as Whetstone handcuffed Harmon’s wrists behind his back. As Harmon was escorted from the auditorium, he traded verbal barbs with a windmill supporter who said he is member of the Laborers’ International Union of North America. Several dozen members of the union arrived at the meeting in matching orange T-shirts, applauding comments by other wind-turbine proponents.
Supporters of the wind turbines planned for Gilford Township, population 822, say it will create jobs, boost tax revenues and provide income to land owners entering into agreements with NextEra, which would sell wind-generated electricity to Detroit Edison for use locally.
Scott Bernia, an owner of farm land in Gilford Township, drew loud applause after telling the Planning Commission that “It’s my right to harvest the wind off of that farm as it is to harvest the sunshine and the water.”
Gilford Township resident Dennis R. Ackerman, 52, told The Tribune he began leasing farm land to NextEra last year, and that he figures to earn about $10,000 per year for any wind turbine built on his property.
“I could really care less if I got one or not, but I don’t want someone telling me that I can’t have one on my own property,” Ackerman said.
Yet wind-turbine opponents wonder, among other things, who will pay to decommission turbines when they wear out, break or are taken out of operation.
Richard R. James, an Okemos acoustical consultant representing Gilford Wind Watch, told the Planning Commission that wind turbines will produce low-frequency noise residents will hear at night. “Why do people react negatively to wind turbines?” James asked. “It’s because they feel their peace and quiet – which they came to the community for – have been disturbed.”
Gilford Township resident Rochelle Arnold told the Planning Commission that “Your property values and quality of life will suffer a lot more from industrial wind turbines than it will from a junk car.”
Township resident Helene Weber said owners of land where wind turbines will be built support NextEra’s plan purely because they stand to reap money.
“If it’s not about money, what is it about?” she said. “Is it about ‘Help your neighbor?’ Is it about ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself?’ I don’t think so.”
One township official passed out a flyer estimating Gilford Township, along with Tuscola County, each would receive $600,000 in tax income in the first year once all wind turbines are built in the township.
LeRoy Bunker, 45, of Vassar Township, told the audience he has worked near Minden City helping construct wind turbines.
“You can go to Minden City and ask the people out there,” Bunker said. “I still have friends out there in Minden City where we put the windmills up and I have not met one yet who wasn’t happy with the deal that went down out there. It’s been a good thing for everybody out there.”
But Gilford Township resident Mike Edwards, 27, told the audience that although he once loved the scenery along Atwater Road near Ubly when he drove the route as a truck driver, he no longer enjoys the views after wind turbines were erected there.
“They might be good for electricity, but they’ve ruined that valley,” Edwards said.
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