Plans may have been derailed for several officials in Almer and Ellington townships seeking re-election, but the $200 million Tuscola III “wind farm” project remains on track.
Bryan Garner, manager of communications at Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources L.L.C., told The Advertiser the company is pushing forward with Tuscola III, regardless of who’s in office.
“We are fortunate to have terrific landowners who have been patient and are eager to participate in the Tuscola III wind project,” Garner said. “We would like to build a project this community can be proud of, one that will deliver significant economic and clean energy benefits to all.”
But it might not be as quick as the company had hoped with new officials in both communities ready to take office later this year as a result of last week’s primary.
Casualties included Almer Township Supervisor Jim Miklovic, ousted by challenger Jim Mantey, 245-217 and Ellington Township Supervisor Duane Lockwood, defeated by challenger Russell Speirs, 246-101.
Because of personal interests in wind turbine projects, both Miklovic and Lockwood have excused themselves from wind-related decisions on their respective boards, though not until relatively recently.
Further, in Almer Township, trustees Michael Putnam (who also had excused himself due to interests in wind) and Bill Reavey received the lowest number of votes in the primary for trustee – a race that included seven potential candidates. The top vote-getters (in order) were Art Graff, Jim Tussey, Jim Rosenstangal and Brian Schriber, who all move on to the November general election ballot along with incumbent and lone Democrat, Charles Dennis.
In Ellington Township, Diane Wilder was unseated as treasurer by Carmell Pattullo.
Current officials in both communities are reviewing their wind ordinances in light of plans for Tuscola III. The end result will determine the fate of Tuscola III – details such as how many turbines can be placed within certain areas and how much noise they can make.
Graff, Tussey, Rosenstangal and Pattullo – along with others on the November ballot – are members of the Ellington-Almer Concerned Citizens group, which has been vocal about the need for wind ordinances that put health, safety and welfare of all citizens above all else.
However, the group has been publicly accused by representatives of NextEra as being a “small vocal group,” labeled as anti-wind, and said their one objective is to “delay, delay, delay.”
“It’s consistent with what we’ve been saying all along and what I’ve been seeing in probably a dozen townships in the state of Michigan and when I’ve been in other places on similar projects,” said Josh Nolan, the attorney who has been representing the concerned citizens group.
“It’s the same story every time, ‘This is a small vocal group that doesn’t represent the community’, then when there’s an election held it’s demonstrated that they are not only a majority, but oftentimes a super-majority,” Nolan said.
“NextEra Energy Resources has not disparaged anyone,” Garner said. “We are concerned the process of deciding on local wind ordinances has unnecessarily gone on too long, with those who oppose wind development seeking to delay the process. We have expressed this concern on several occasions. NextEra Energy Resources has been and will continue to be respectful of everyone we engage with, including those who disagree with us.”
Tussey told The Advertiser he looks forward to working with residents and all permit applicants, but that he doesn’t intend to rush projects through the process.
“What we heard during the election process from residents is to assure special interest groups don’t bypass the health, safety and welfare of the township,” Tussey said. “The near sweep of both Ellington and Almer townships is effectively a mandate to assure that property rights are not trespassed upon.
“NextEra, along with any business that wish to reside in Almer, will need to work with the township so that both the business and residents will equally prosper,” Tussey said.
Graff, who received the highest number of votes among the Republican candidates for trustee in Almer Township, said “being called a ‘small vocal group’ was shown not to be true by the results of last Tuesday’s primary election.”
Graff stressed he is not anti-wind, but is against “placing a 500-foot turbine, 1,500 feet from a resident’s house – not their property line – and not allowing them a voice one way or another.”
“If a landowner has only an acre or two lot, their property rights are just as important as large land owners,” Graff said. “We have heard the term ‘delay’ several times, I see it as absolutely necessary until everyone’s interests are considered.
“Who will stand up for them if we don’t?”
Nolan went so far as to suggest current elected officials who lost in the primary resign, though they hold the authority of their respective offices until Nov. 20.
None of the officials who lost their respective races responded to requests to comment on the suggestion of resigning.
“For those who have lost their races, and there’s no one running against the winner of that race in the fall, it seems to me it would makes sense for them to resign, step aside, and let the new people take office now,” Nolan said.
Any remaining board members would have to approve appointments to fill vacant seats,
Nolan added that if board members in office push wind-related ordinances through, it could eventually end up on another township ballot.
“Almer still has the referendum process,” Nolan said. “So obviously that’s a huge card to play that will prevent the lame duck officials from really doing much of anything.
“It would probably end up on the March ballot, well after these officials are long gone from office and unable to do anything.”
Nolan said it’s hard to predict what the current board in Almer Township will do with regard to adopting any kind of changes to its wind ordinance.
“But if the citizens don’t like what is eventually adopted by the township board they have a right to take it to referendum,” Nolan said. “And the voters will get an opportunity to speak once again.”
Nolan says the uncertainty in Almer raises the question of what could happen in Ellington.
“We’ll see if they’re willing…when Almer is still up in the air.”
The boards of trustees in Almer and Ellington townships both met Tuesday evening, after press time.