The fate of a $200 million “wind farm” project in Almer Township moved one step closer to being decided by voters after paperwork calling for a referendum was filed Tuesday with the township clerk.
Norm Stephens, of Almer Township, filed the “notice of intent” calling for a referendum on changes to the community’s wind ordinance approved by the township board last week.
The move comes less than a week after the Almer Township board voted in changes to the community’s wind ordinance, after more than eight months of oftentimes contentious debate and discussion. The changes were published in Saturday’s edition of The Advertiser.
Citizens such as Stephens have been saying since last winter that the changes don’t go far enough to protect residents, instead claiming they favor wind developers. The Advertiser reported talk of a referendum – but only as a last resort – as far back as May.
“Our group of concerned citizens realized months ago that most of the township officials…had no intention of making any major changes to the wind ordinance,” said Norm Stephens, who dropped off the “notice of intent” to township clerk Peggy Reavey at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. The Advertiser was invited to witness the filing. Through the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act, citizens can request a referendum if changes like the ones approved by the board last week are made. The process includes filing a “notice of intent” within a week of approved changes being published and getting signatures within 30 days from 15 percent of those who voted in the last gubernatorial election. It’s estimated that will equate to between 115-130 signatures.
“Our best chance at getting the wind turbines installed at a safe distance, a distance that would minimize if not eliminate most resident complaints, would be to ask the people of Almer Township to vote on the proposed changes to the wind ordinance,” Stephens said.
Almer Township officials originally took up review of its wind ordinance because Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources L.L.C. plans to build a $200 million “wind farm” called Tuscola III in Almer, Ellington and Fairgrove townships.
Some residents have consistently asked township officials to put the overall health, safety, and welfare of the community first. Other have emphasized the rights of landowners.
“I think that we should move forward with this ordinance that we have and it’s pretty much what everybody wanted,” said Dave Russell during last Wednesday’s board meeting. “There’s a small group out here that disagree but I think that where the farm is – there’s not a lot of people disagree where the wind farm’s gonna be – it’s mostly everybody disagrees on this side. So we should definitely move forward with the project.”
The Advertiser reached out to NextEra Energy Resources to get reaction to the plans to seek referendum and what it could mean to the future of Tuscola III.
Bryan Garner, manager of communications at NextEra Enery Resources – a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Inc. (NYSE: NEE) – responded with the following:
“There are a lot of people in Tuscola County who have worked hard to make the Tuscola III project come together and who are counting on us to build a project that will bring significant benefits to this community,” said Garner. “We would like to move forward with the project and believe we can work collaboratively with the Township to make that happen.”
The township board itself is about to change.
In the August primary, incumbent Supervisor Jim Miklovic was defeated by challenger Jim Mantey, meaning Mantey – a member of the Almer Township Planning Commission – will be the lone candidate for the position on the November ballot.
Jim Tussey, Jim Rosenstangel, Art Graff – all challengers – were the top Republican vote-getters in the race for four trustee seats. Incumbent Brian Schriber survived by nine votes while incumbents Bill Reavey and Michael Putnam were effectively ousted.
Charles Dennis is the lone Democrat on the ballot.
And Clerk Peggy Reavey is being challenged by Bill Galka, who filed for the position post-primary as a candidate with no party affiliation.
During last week’s 4-1 vote, Miklovic and Putnam abstained.
Trustee Patty Witkovsky – not seeking reelection – was the lone “no” vote while Schriber, Dennis, Bill Reavey and Peggy Reavey voted in favor of the changes.
Supporters of the referendum say the move was inconsistent with overall sentiments in Almer Township.
“Of the roughly 150 people I’ve spoken to in last eight months, less than one in 10 wants turbines close to homes and ignoring property rights,” Tussey said. “People are amazed that an ordinance would be passed that so obviously encroaches property rights.
“When folks are shown the realities of the recently passed ordinance such as no noise protection to property lines, allowing 72 minutes of unlimited noise every 24 hours, and no way to hold NextEra responsible if turbines cause harm to people’s lives, almost all say the ordinance is bad and should be redone,” Tussey said.
Stephens said the August primary results are telling.
“Residents want new ideas and they want officials that will listen to their comments at township meetings,” Stephens said. “No wind energy company has won a referendum on their wind turbine facilities in Michigan since 2009 and I don’t expect the people of Almer Township to vote any differently. The people will speak at the voting booth again and the new Board officials will draft a responsible wind ordinance that addresses the issues presented by citizens at past township meetings.
Jodi Fetting, clerk, Tuscola County, said the next regular election date is May 2017, as the February election was eliminated and the March election was for the presidential primary.
Stephens said the group of citizens is strategizing for how it will collect signatures and already has begun compiling a list of likely supporters.
“We will begin collecting signatures as soon as our petitions are drawn up properly by an attorney,” Stephens said.