CASEVILLE – Dozens attended Lake Township’s regular board meeting Monday night to weigh in on a proposed Public Act 425 agreement that would allow a group of Lake Township residents to transfer their property to Chandler Township for the purpose of developing a wind farm.
Before the night was over, Lake Township agreed to enter negotiations with Chandler Township on the issue.
Okemos Attorney William K. Fahey, who represents the group of Lake Township property owners, said the people who voted against wind development in Lake Township in February were misled to believe wind turbines would be built on the shores or in the waters of Lake Huron.
Fahey presented the board with a document circulated by the Citizens for Planning Responsibly group which, according to Fahey, contains false information about the locations of wind turbines.
“They specifically tried to alarm shoreline property owners by threatening them with offshore wind,” Fahey said. “By doing the 425 agreement with Chandler Township, you can assure that the land on the shoreline will not be developed for wind.”
Fahey also said both townships would benefit from the land transfer because in this situation, the property would move from Lake Township, which has a lower millage rate, to Chandler Township which has a higher millage rate.
“The property taxes would go from 2 mills to 6 mills – you would have three times the tax revenue to split. There also are the additional taxes after the property is developed,” he said.
Lake Township resident Jeanne Henry asked Fahey if any of his previous work included 425 agreements after a re-zoning issue had been turned down by voters.
Fahey said he can recall at least three prior 425 agreements that were used in reaction to re-zoning issues.
“The re-zoning didn’t go through and the property owners decided they wanted to transfer their property to another unit of government,” Fahey said.
“The most recent place that occurred was in Cadillac last year where a referendum occurred and then the 425 agreement came after.”
Huron County Commissioner John Nugent said while he doesn’t believe windmills should be in Lake Huron or within three miles of the shoreline, his biggest concern is the democratic process.
“To be able to vote and to have your vote counted is the foundation of our democracy,” he said. “I’d hate to see that a vote can be overturned by a Public Act.”
Yvonne Bushey, a Lake Township resident and landowner whose property would be included in the proposed transfer, said she supports the development of clean, renewable energy.
“We are being polluted and damaged because of the emissions from the coal plants,” she said. “We have to put the wind turbines where the wind is. We have high winds in Lake Township.”
Other public concerns included the potentially negative impact wind development could have on wildlife, tourism, property taxes and possible complications for those who use aerial spraying for crops and gypsy moth control.
Tony Loewe, a Port Austin resident, said he is concerned about the conflict of interest created by Lake Township and Huron County Planning Commission members who hold land leases with DTE or other wind development companies.
Lake Township Supervisor Robert Smith said he wanted to hear from the board first before making a motion to consider entering into a PA 425 agreement with Chandler Township.
Lake Township Board Trustee Dale Hartsell said he thinks it would be best to take a second look at the zoning ordinance before agreeing to the land transfer.
“I’d like to keep our land in Lake Township and try to work on the ordinance some more to see if we can come up with something everyone can agree on,” he said.
Lake Township Clerk Valerie McCallum said she does not see any reason why the board should make a decision that is contrary to the wishes of the voters.
“We voted and I think we have to uphold that democratic process,” she said.
McCallum said her main concern is for the people who will be living in the middle of the wind development.
“There are 55 residences within the transfer area that would be surrounded by these properties which would be developed for wind and another three dozen residences affected because they are right across the road,” she said.
Lake Township Board Trustee William Osborne said he was disappointed by the referendum in February.
“I am a firm believer in voting. But I’m going to tell you, it is my personal opinion, that Citizens for Planning Responsibly lied,” he said. “I believe that at least 99 percent of people out here are very intelligent. But there are a lot more residents that aren’t here that you could scare into voting for something or against something by putting out the kind of literature that they put out.
“I’m upset and I’m angry about it,” he said. “I personally feel that it probably would have passed if that hadn’t been sent out two days before the election.”
Osborne also said he hopes a new re-zoning ordinance, acceptable to all Lake Township residents, can be created before a land transfer decision has to be made.
Lake Township Board Treasurer Dorothy Fischer said, “We need to negotiate to see what we like or what we don’t like. We won’t know what is possible until we get into negotiations.”
Smith said he believes wind turbines and solar panels are the way of the future, but he isn’t sure if creating a new re-zoning ordinance is even legal.
“Green is good,” Smith said. “I believe in solar panels and I believe in wind turbines. I am interested in what could happen with a 425 agreement if we can’t change the ordinance.”
Fahey said it is possible for the board to change the previously rejected zoning ordinance.
“The Planning Commission would have to go through the whole process again,” he said. “They would have to hold another public hearing, draft an ordinance and then present it to the township board. The township board would decide whether to adopt it and, if it passes, give the people the opportunity to file another referendum.”
Smith made a motion to begin negotiations with Chandler Township regarding the proposed land transfer.
“We have a motion that we should consider entering into a fact-finding agreement with Chandler Township to go into negotiations to find out exactly what this 425 agreement will amount to,” Smith said.
The board voted 3-2 in favor of entering negotiations with Chandler Township, with McCallum and Hartsell voting against the negotiations.
McCallum and Hartsell also voted against a motion made by Fischer allowing Smith to appoint three people to meet with Chandler Township representatives to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the PA 425 agreement.
“They will outline recommendations on whether or not it is beneficial to the township as a whole,” said Fischer, in her motion. “The three person committee shall be comprised of two board members and one member of the planning commission.”
Smith appointed himself, Osborne, and Planning Commission member Paul Golsh to the negotiation committee.
An audience member who introduced herself as Annette from Bay County said she was sent to observe the meeting on behalf of residents in Bay, Saginaw and Tuscola counties, because residents in those areas are concerned more votes against wind development may be overturned by 425 agreements.
“What you don’t realize is the decisions you are making tonight will impact people all over Michigan,” she said. “You just handed the wind developers what they needed because you have set the precedent that they can go to all the township boards and override the vote of the people. We have young men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan who are dying so that people have the right to vote.”
After the comment, a debate regarding the issue broke out among the audience causing Smith to intervene.
“Enough is enough,” Smith said. “Anybody got something sensible to say?”
Audience members demanded an apology, which Smith quickly provided.
Other participants asked if any of the board members have land leased to DTE.
Osborne stated that he had property leased to DTE at one time, but has since rescinded the agreement.
McCallum, Hartsell and Smith denied having properties leased to DTE, and Fischer did not reply.
In other business, the board:
• Discussed a request by citizens to change the speed limit on Champagne Road. The question was forwarded to State Rep. Kurt Damrow who, according to the board, replied that he is working on a bill which would allow townships to control the speed limits on roads within the township boundaries.
• Discussed the law concerning beach cleanup and the need for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit, even though the DEQ permit is no longer required by law.
• Informed the public that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be tagging all boat hoists currently in Saginaw Bay. Each hoist will be marked with a violation sticker which will include an application to register the boat hoist.
• Voted to leave the township’s wind website as is – rather than change or remove information.
• Voted to place new gravel on several secondary roads.
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