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Meade wind energy ballot issue is not a done deal

MEADE TOWNSHIP – About 120 voters who signed a petition to decide whether Meade Township is suitable for wind development may not have the opportunity to do so, township officials say.

Meade resident Rita Parsch’s petition for referendum, filed with the township board, sought to put on the May ballot the question of whether DTE Energy’s wind overlay district should be approved. The overlay map deems areas within the township suitable for the utility’s plan to site 40 wind turbines.

Parsch set out last month to get the 45 signatures needed, and said she turned it in on Dec. 8, at least a week before the 30-day limit.

But township officials say the petition appears to be invalid, and that an issue with wording may keep the question off the ballot.

“It didn’t tell the voter exactly what they were voting for,” Township Clerk Florence Penfold said.

Penfold said Wednesday that the wording is “not correct at this moment.”

The township sought legal opinion from Bad Axe attorney John Ferris.

Ferris said he reviewed the petition and deemed it inadequate based on the language. He said it did not pose a yes- or no-question that voters may see on the ballot.

“It made no sense to me,” Ferris said on Thursday, adding that he read it at least three times. “The voters will not know what this means.”

The official wording has not been released. The township says it is penning a letter to inform petitioners that it is invalid.

Parsch provided the wording to the Tribune on Thursday. She said it reads, “We … respectively petition for referendum election:

“A referendum election on Meade Township resolution 2014-3, wind energy overlay district, amendment to the Meade Township ordinance of 2013-1, as approved by the Meade Township board on November 11, 2014.”

“We paid for a lawyer (Toledo attorney Joshua Nolan) to write it up so there wouldn’t be any issues,” Parsch said.

She said her understanding was that the petition wasn’t meant to show the wording on the ballot, and that “lawyers would work that out with the township later.”

Per the Michigan Enabling Act, the township clerk must deem the petition adequate or inadequate, based on the necessary amount of signatures required and the wording that would appear on the ballot.

DTE Project Manager Mike Serafin, said plans are still in place for up to 58 wind turbines. The majority would be sited in Meade. Colfax could see about 10. And one turbine is now planned for Chandler Township.

“If that referendum works in our favor, we would like to be ready to go May 18,” Serafin said. “We cannot stop all our planning operations based on a referendum vote. We feel obligated to our constituents that we have easements with to proceed.”

Currently, a track vehicle that “almost looks a little bit like a tank” is drilling holes in the ground for soil readings and samples to determine “suitability to begin the construction process,” Serafin said. Crews consist of about a dozen workers and a pickup truck.

“Until we get some clarity with Meade, a lot of the onsite work will not occur until we get resolutions,” he said.

The Meade Township board approved DTE Energy’s overlay district in November.