Marion Township residents picketed a township budget meeting this week to oppose a moratorium that was supposed to slow wind development projects in the area.
Planning commission member Jonathon Block said the Marion Township Board of Trustees approved a moratorium last week that would halt all future wind development projects, with the exception of a pending Exelon Corporation wind farm.
“I feel the board lied to and misled the citizens of Marion Township,” said Jennie Schumacher, who said she walked the picket line Monday.
The Exelon plans, which prompted the request for a moratorium in the first place, include 68 new windmills in three different townships: Marion, Bridgehampton and Custer.
Measuring about 499 feet in height, the windmills would generate about 150 megawatts of energy – enough to power about 44,000 average homes. Residents in Marion Township wanted to slow or stop the plans until they could take a closer look at the setbacks.
Supervisor Arnold McVittie recommended a six-month moratorium on all wind energy projects at a March 3 meeting. The moratorium passed 3-2.
But Block said the attorney still had to put the moratorium in writing. When the board scheduled a March 22 special meeting, Block assumed it was to approve the written moratorium.
The meeting was advertised through a piece of paper posted at the township office 18 hours before the meeting, Block said.
The board went into executive session with its lawyer during the March 22 meeting and afterward voted on a new moratorium that stayed all future wind development except Exelon’s project.
“We were very fortunate because, unlike many townships facing wind energy concerns, our community has stayed very well connected and we have avoided a lot of the fighting,” Block said.
“But their action on the 22nd is certainly going to create divisiveness among the people.”
McVittie said the board felt it couldn’t include Exelon in the moratorium because the board had already approved overlay language for the project.
“To put a moratorium on something that had already been voted on, there was question about whether we could do that legally,” McVittie said.
McVittie resigned following the meeting. He said family health concerns led to his resignation.
“If it was just the wind towers and the issues there, no big deal,” McVittie said.
Exelon’s windmill development has been hotly contested in both Marion and Bridgehampton townships. Residents have alleged board members on both township boards and planning commissions have voted on zoning ordinance changes favorable to wind energy development while holding leases with Exelon and other wind energy companies.
Residents in both townships have voiced concerns that the ordinance changes favor development over safety.
Schumacher said she began attending Marion Township board meetings after the alleged conflicts of interest came to light.
“Nobody knew all this stuff was going on with the windmills and the expansion,” Schumacher said.
“Shame on me I guess for not going to (the meetings), but up until then I thought the board members were doing a good job for the township.”
Marjorie Mosher, who also picketed the Monday meeting, said she felt misled and betrayed by the township.
“We were all led to believe that they were going to go in and give us that six-month window…to go in and change the wording in our ordinance,” Mosher said.
“We were misled. We were very outraged, still are.”
Block said signatures also were submitted in Marion Township for a referendum regarding a zoning ordinance amendment that would expand the township wind overlay district to accommodate the Exelon project.
Block said the issue will go to a township vote in August.
He said if the board decides to go forward with approvals for Exelon’s site plans – in spite of the referendum – the township can expect litigation.
“The people of the township are viewing that as a violation of our constitutional right and we’ll fully utilize the court to alleviate that violation,” Block said.
Bridgehampton Township, also included in Exelon’s plans, has asked for advice from the township lawyer before approving a moratorium.
Township Supervisor Michael Haggerty said he expects to hear from the township lawyer at the April 15 meeting.
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