MEADE TOWNSHIP – Despite offering concessions that would increase setbacks and reduce the number of turbines in a proposed wind park, Detroit Edison’s plans to secure land in Meade Township was again stalled Tuesday after the township’s planning commission failed to approve the township’s zoning ordinance.
The planning commission voted 2-2 to reject a motion to accept the proposed wind overlay district portion of the ordinance, with John Osentoski and Diana Collins voting against it. Chairman Rob Heck, Vice-Chair Peter Shupe and member
Chris McCrea abstained from voting because they or their family has the potential for financial gain if plans for the wind park proceed.
The commission then voted 3-1 to table the issue until its next regular meeting at 7 p.m. on Oct. 28, with McCrea voting against the motion and the same three abstaining.
The Meade Township Board of Trustees, which held a special meeting after the three-and-a-half hour planning commission meeting with the expectation of voting on the ordinance, expressed frustration that the commission could not come to an agreement.
The board previously asked the planning commission to review the overlay district and present them with a recommended ordinance, which the board could choose to accept or reject. Supervisor Bernie Creguer said the board will vote on the ordinance at its regular meeting on Nov. 11, even if the planning commission chooses not to act.
“We want a recommendation by then, otherwise we will make a decision without a recommendation,” he said.
At the beginning of the public hearing, DTE announced concessions it was willing to make to better meet resident desires regarding the overlay, including accepting opt out letters and increasing the setback to 1320 feet or the distance from their house to the property line plus 1,000 feet. The changes will reduce the number of turbines planned for Meade Township from 52 to 42, unless some non-participating landowners waive their rights.
“If you look at it, we’re cutting our park by close to 25 percent. We’re trying to move forward,” said Mike Serafin, DTE Energy Wind Development Program manager.
DTE previously announced it would accept opt outs from landowners who have not signed leases with the company until Tuesday’s meeting, and it planned to update its wind overlay map accordingly.
After the meeting, Serafin said DTE would continue to accept opt out letters until the next planning commission meeting. Opt out letters can be submitted to Planning Commission Secretary Diana Collins, 2119 W. Filion Rd., Filion, MI, 48432
After the meeting, Serafin said the commission’s decision to delay the vote is frustrating for DTE, but the company is not giving up on its plans.
“We just have to let the process play out. We’ll do our best to paint a clear picture of the overlay district and provide them with as accurate of a case as we can so they can vote with confidence,” Serifin said.
Several residents objected to the planning commission voting on the district until DTE presented the new map, stating the commission needed to be able to see what it was voting on.
Bob McLain, vice chairman of the Huron County Wind Energy Subcommittee and staunch supporter for increased setbacks and regulations for turbines, beseeches the commission to delay voting until they had a clear picture of the overlay.
“I don’t see how you can possibly make any kind of determination without incorporating all of these opt outs that you’ve been requested to put in there tonight. You’ve got to be able to see a map and know what the h— you’re voting on, quite frankly. To do otherwise would just be foolish and not in the best interest of your community,” he said to applause.
McLain noted the county is researching its ordinance with the possibility of making changes, and since Meade based much of its ordinance on the county’s template, it would be folly to move forward with a plan that others have found inadequate to protect residents from what he believes are detrimental effects of turbines.
Joshua J. Nolan, a Toledo, Ohio attorney hired by residents who oppose the current ordinance, told the commission that if they move forward without making changes to the ordinance, they risk a lawsuit.
“Your ordinance is a carbon copy of the Huron County ordinance. It contains the exact same typos, OK. Huron County’s ordinance is not working. They’ve embodied a wind subcommittee to review that ordinance to see what’s going on with it due to a rash of complaints, due to threatened litigation. Why are you moving forward with an ordinance that has proven to be a failure? That, in my mind, is the very definition of arbitrary and capricious. On top of that, you’ve been given hundreds of pages of documents tonight for your review. It’s incumbent upon you, in order to represent your citizens, to actually take the time to review that information. You can’t do that if you vote before you’ve even read it,” he said.
Nolan also addressed DTE’s assertion that the township could face a lawsuit if it fails to approve the overlay district.
“(Serafin) made a claim that there’s a potential lawsuit for a taking with a value of $17. Mr. (John Ferris, the township’s attorney) will support this, there is no vested interest in this project until such time as they’ve been granted a building permit and they’ve completed substantial construction. At this point, they’ve completed no construction and no permits have been issued. It’s perfectly within your right to make any changes to your zoning ordinance, and I’m encouraging you to adopt a moratorium to take the time to do that,” he said.
Matt Wagner, DTE Energy wind site development manager, retorted that Huron County keeps a record of all official complaints regarding turbines, and with the exception of the wind park in Ubly, there have been none.
Meade Township resident Rita Parsch told the commission during public comments that she does have a complaint about turbines near her house, which is close to the Chandler Township border.
“I’m getting bombarded with shadow flicker, noise because Chandler Township was not a good neighbor,” she said.
She begged members to make changes to the ordinance to protect residents. Parch was one of several in attendance who presented the commission with documents that support the belief that turbines present a threat to human and animal health.
She asked the commission to read the township’s master plan and consider whether turbines are something residents want.
“Read it, digest it and follow it, because that’s what the township residents wanted many moons ago when you surveyed them. Our master plan does not support or promote industrial wind facilities or growth that forever changes the rural vistas and rural atmosphere of our township,” she said.
Another issue raised during the meeting was conflict of interest, as three members of the commission have a potential financial interest in the proposed win park.
Nolan objected to members discussing the ordinance, saying they should not have the ability to influence the outcome of the vote.
“There’s case law that says you shouldn’t even be in the room right now, because your presence intimidates others in the room, and that’s a real issue for the township going forward. And that’s an issue whether the litigation is initiated by your residents or by DTE. That’s a problem that needs to be addressed right away,” Nolan said.
Township attorney John Ferris said the township’s bylaws forbid commission members who have a conflict of interest from voting, but he said those members could discuss the issue.
While much of the audience applauded comments that were in opposition to the proposed wind overlay district, there were many who encouraged the commission to allow DTE to move forward with its plans.
Lifetime Meade Township resident Darel Dumaw refuted the idea that turbines pose a health risk.
“That they do anything to anybody, it’s not proven. I don’t know how you can stand there and say this is going to kill you and that’s going to kill you. It’s a bunch of foolishness,” he said.
A minority of those in the crowd spoke appealed to fellow residents, asking them to find a way to get along and move past the division the turbine controversy has created among neighbors.
Steven Butch, a Verona Township resident who owns property in Meade Township and has signed a lease with DTE, said he does not like looking at the turbines, but his wife “loves” them.
“She’d have one in the house if she could, so everybody’s different as far as that goes. But I do agree that we do have to come together to do something different with electricity. See this light here,” he said, pointing to a dark light fixture above his head. “That’s what we’re going to be like if we don’t get things changed.”