MEADE TOWNSHIP – Township residents will likely have the chance to vote regarding the Meade Township board’s decision to approve a wind overlay district, but it’s currently unclear what will appear on the ballot.
During Tuesday’s meeting, township board members voted to change February’s regular meeting to the first Tuesday of the month, Feb. 2, to decide how to word the ballot language for a referendum vote. State law requires ballot wording to be certified by the township clerk by Feb. 10 in order to appear in the May 5 election.
The referendum election was initiated by a petition drive following the township board’s approval on Nov. 11, 2014 of the wind overlay district proposed by Detroit Edison.
Shortly after submitting the petitions, which included more than enough signatures to require the referendum, circulators received a certified letter from the township stating the petition’s language was unacceptable and the referendum would not appear on the May ballot.
Tuesday, Meade Township Supervisor Bernie Creguer told a hall full of disgruntled residents that the vote would “probably” happen, but the township must draft clear and legal ballot language before it can commit to hold the election.
“I cannot give them a 100 percent answer,” Creguer said following the meeting.
He said the petitions were initially rejected because the township could not find a way to transform the petition language into a “yes” or “no” question, which is required by law.
“(Meade Township Corporate Council) Mr. (John) Ferris thought we could not do it. The county clerk (Lori Neal- Wonsowicz) thought it could not be done,” Creguer said.
The petition reads signers want “a referendum election on Meade Township Resolution 2014-3, Wind Energy Overlay District, Amendment to the Meade Township Ordinance 2013-1, as approved by the Meade Township Board.”
“I’ve had several people from different townships give me advice on this. I’ve had pro-wind people and negative-wind people, and they all come up with the same conclusion,” he said. “You could word it a million different ways.”
After the petition circulators received the certified letter, Creguer said he was contacted by attorney Joshua J. Nolan, who represents township resident Rita Parsch.
“Mr. Nolan had some suggestions,” Creguer said. “We want to have some input on it too, and Mr. Ferris is working on that. … We are trying to work out a compromise on that wording so that everybody will be happy.”
State law does not allow voters to whole handedly reject wind energy development, which further complicates the township’s effort to draft the ballot language, Creguer said.
Following the meeting, Planning Commission Secretary Diana Collins expressed concern that the ballot language could be fashioned in a manner that confuses voters.
“The language has to be clear and legal so people know what they’re voting on,” Collins said.
Resident Dale Ricker pointed out that it’s not the responsibility of the petition’s circulators to write legal ballot language.
“You’re very right,” Creguer responded. “But we have to be able to change this, Dale, to a yes or no question to put on that ballot. … Mr. Nolan, he can sit there and say this is what to put on the ballot, because he knows what his intention is.”
Creguer said the township’s goal will be to create wording that captures the spirit of the petition without confusing or misleading voters.
“It’s hard to do,” he said.
The ballot language is just one challenge Creguer said the township faces regarding wind.
He said he’s concerned the township will be sued, by either residents or DTE, no matter what the board decides to do.
“A lady from MTA (Michigan Township Association) told (Trustee) Mr. (John) Osentoski that probably, one way or another, we’re going into litigation, whether it goes to referendum or not,” he said.
Matt Wagner, DTE Energy wind site development manager, said the company must move forward with wind development regardless of the outcome of the possible referendum vote.
“We have to comply with state law, so we have to keep moving,” he said. “In every project, we have contingencies. We always have a backup plan.”
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