Thursday, October 2, 2014, By CHRIS ALDRIDGE Tribune Staff Writer michigansthumb.com
Plans for DTE Energy’s new wind park in Meade and Colfax townships are dividing residents at townhall meetings, prompting some to sign a petition to restrict wind energy while others welcome new wind development as a benefit to the entire township.
Planning Commission Chair Rob Heck prefaced Tuesday’s meeting, as in past meetings, with rules of order and public comment. But they were broken from the get-go as the clamor from residents built, conversation veered off topic and arguments circled, sometimes arriving at dead ends as comments poured in for more than three hours.
Heck first addressed the board members’ potential for conflict of interest in deciding whether to approve a wind energy overlay district for DTE’s newest wind park, which will locate 47 turbines in Meade Township and another 13 in Colfax Township.
Of the seven members on the Meade Township Planning Commission, three have contracts with DTE Energy. Rob Heck and Peter Shupe have easements for wind energy development in Meade Township, according to documents in the Huron County Register of Deeds Office. Chris McCrea has multiple easements for wind energy development in Bloomfield and Lincoln townships.
No one on the township board has contracts with wind energy developers, according to the documents.
At an Aug. 26 planning commission meeting, Heck abstained from voting on a six-month moratorium on wind energy. Members Peter Shupe and Chris McCrea opposed the moratorium.
Heck said the board’s corporate counsel recommended removing and revising parts of the bylaws relating to conflict of interest, “because there is a problem getting enough votes to properly do our job here.” Heck read from the bylaws, which state amendments can be made at any meeting by a majority vote of the planning commission. Planners voted unanimously to table a motion to do so until a later date.
Heck then read advice from the township board’s corporate counsel, Bad Axe Attorney John Ferris:
“Just because you have a lease, doesn’t mean you can’t vote on any issue on wind. It depends on whether you, personally, will benefit financially … if it affects you, don’t vote. That is his recommendation.”
Part of the bylaws, as read by Heck, state, “Before casting a vote … the members shall disclose the potential conflict of interest to us at the planning commission. Failure to disclose constitutes malfeasance.”
During public comment, some residents said everyone in the township would benefit from the wind park, as tax revenue could help repair roads. That notion was stretched further by board member Chad Gilbert, who said everyone in the township thus has a conflict of interest.
“So, what do we have to do, go down to Bay City or Detroit to get people to decide what we can do?” Gilbert said.
Township Supervisor Bernie Creguer agreed and said everyone on the board has a conflict of interest, whether voting for or against.
“Let’s just say some people on the board are voting against it because they’re worried about their property values. Is that not a financial gain, if they vote against it and it’s shot down?” Creguer said.
Chris McCrea said everyone could benefit from the wind park, though it is bad timing to remove and revise bylaws relating to conflict of interest. Filion resident Dale Ricker agreed.
“Considering your well-being or your bottom dollar or any special interest and not speaking for the residents themselves, is a conflict of interest in a type to me,” Ricker said. “If you’re going to erase some of those other rules, those other rules very clearly state what a conflict of interest could be. I think you’re taking away some well-written, very direct rules and you’re replacing it with something that has a lot of leeway for a lot of what we don’t want to see. I realize that you guys are the committee, but you’re our voice in a sense too.”
Sixty-seven residents petition for stricter wind regulation
A petition signed by residents David and Melissa Periso and Jim and Rita Parsch, and 67 others, requests township officials to make six amendments to Meade’s wind ordinance:
“We’re not asking for yes wind or no wind,” said Jerry McNabb, a former trustee. “What we’re asking for is a compromise.”
Heck said some leaseholders have signed the petition, while one person who had not signed up found his name inscribed by his wife and asked to be removed.
“Intimidation of your neighbors is a very bad thing,” Heck said of alleged petition tactics. “This is not personal people, this is business.”
Heck said the board’s corporate counsel recommends township officials treat the petition merely as a request.
“Otherwise it has zero legal standing whatsoever,” Heck said.
It’s also unrealistic, according to DTE.
In an email sent to Planning Commission Secretary Diana Collins, DTE Wind Site Development Manager Matt Wagner said extending setbacks to 1,640 feet would remove 31 turbines, or 65 percent of the 47 turbines planned for Meade Township.
In response to limiting turbine heights to 400 feet, Wagner said turbines this small would require 70 turbines instead of 47.
“This will reduce considerably property tax revenues to Meade (Township) on the turbines and royalties to the landowners,” Wagner wrote.
In the email, Wagner said reduction in sound levels requested by petitioners also would eliminate most turbines. Shadow flicker – which planners say isn’t addressed in the current ordinance – can be managed at the operation level, Wagner said, as DTE has shut off turbines for some landowners at specific times of the day during which blades can create shadows and reflections inside homes.
Rita Parsch said growth in Meade Township, as indicated in its master plan, should be rural and small scale.
“Turbines affect the quality of life,” she said.
Oct. 7 special meetings
Residents who do not want their property in the wind energy overlay district may present a statement “and we will accommodate,” Heck said. Statements may be made at special meetings scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Meade Township Hall.
The township board is expected to make a decision on whether to approve a wind energy overlay district.
An alternate meeting location is planned for North Huron Elementary. Previous meetings neared standing room-only, with about 50 in attendance.
URL to article: https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2014/10/03/the-meade-township-divide-residents-take-sides-during-meeting-to-discuss-wind-energy/