CARO – The Almer Township Planning Commission is set to review the township’s wind turbine-related ordinance once again in light of allegations that the commission violated the Michigan Open Meetings Act.
The planning commission held a special meeting Monday after being given the task by the Almer Township Board of Trustees to review the township’s current ordinances relating to wind power and decide if any changes should be made. The commission’s recommendation would then be passed back to the Almer Township Board of Trustees.
The action comes as NextEra Energy Resources Inc. plans to build Tuscola III – a $200 million wind farm in parts of Almer, Ellington, and Fairgrove townships. A company official told The Advertiser NextEra plans to apply for permits for the project soon.
However, Monday’s special planning commission meeting was not posted to the township’s official website as required by state law, said Joshua Nolan, an attorney for Almer Township resident Jim Tussey.
“It appears that there was an inadvertent error that they didn’t post that meeting properly on the website and that, unfortunately, is a violation of the Open Meetings Act,” Nolan told the board late Tuesday.
Nolan also said that any actions taken at the meeting should be considered “null and void.” The commission had voted to recommend not making any changes to current ordinances.
“All we’re asking is that the township recognize that the mistake was made and take corrective action so that it’s not moving forward in violation of the Open Meetings Act and doesn’t leave the actions taken by the planning commission subject to attack from anyone on either side of this issue.”
David Churchill, township attorney from Lapeer-based Taylor, Butterfield, Howell, Churchill, Jarvis & Garner P.C., advised the board on how to handle the alleged Open Meetings Act violation.
“I would recommend that the board disregard the action of the planning commission at this time as if the decision had not been made,” Churchill said. “And I would recommend to the planning commission that they re-deliberate and re-decide and disregard their own actions from last night. That’s the best course of action.”
A motion wasn’t made and discussion on the matter was limited.
“That’s what we’ll do,” said Jim Miklovic, supervisor, Almer Township.
Miklovic did not return a phone call to The Advertiser.
Brian Garner, also with Taylor, Butterfield, Howell, Churchill, Jarvis & Garner, said Friday that it is important to note that Almer Township officials do not admit to violating the Open Meetings Act.
“The law provides that if there’s a perception, or it’s believed there was an Open Meetings Act violation – I’m not admitting in any way that there’s an Open Meetings Act violation – it says that they shouldn’t rely on an act that was done at this meeting perceived, or allegedly was done, in violation,” Garner said.
Garner said review of the ordinance will be on the planning commission’s regularly scheduled meeting for April 6 at 7 p.m.
Garner also said the meeting will be structured more like the Ellington Township Planning Commission meeting held March 9, whereby various parties with interest in the project were given a specific amount of time to speak.
Mary Jane Garrison, an Almer Township resident who doesn’t have Internet and said she looks to the newspaper for postings of township meetings, said she is glad more people will be aware of the meeting and able to attend to voice how they feel about the project.
Her interest, she said, is in making sure ordinances don’t allow for wind turbines to affect the three acres she lives on in the township.
“Anytime more people get an input, the better,” Garrison said. “We need to be heard more.”
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