Almer Township has become the third township in Tuscola County to enact a moratorium delaying the construction of a wind farm worth $200 million, despite comments that the action was illegal.
Almer Charter Township Board members voted 5-2 on a resolution to adopt a moratorium and finally approved the legal postponement – Trustee Brian Schriber and township Clerk Peggy Reavey voting against each time – at Tuesday’s evening meeting at Tuscola Technology Center.
A moratorium is a legal postponement or suspension of activity. With the action in place, the board has up to 12 months to make changes to or come to an agreement on the zoning ordinance for wind energy conversion systems. Board members could make a decision well before a year comes.
Tuesday’s decision could affect the subsidiary of Juno, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources L.L.C. planned wind turbine farm Tuscola III installing 52 turbines in Almer, Ellington and Fairgrove townships.
Almer Charter Township succeeds Elmwood Township which instituted a year-long postponement in March. Ellington Township Board of Trustees enacted a four-month moratorium in April and then a one-year postponement in November. Almer Township Planning Commission also voted 4-3 in May to recommend a six-month moratorium to gain a better understanding of turbines and their impact on the community.
Dan Ettinger, attorney for NextEra, told the board the police power moratorium passed Tuesday was not legal and shouldn’t be adopted for several reasons including the board cannot amend a zoning ordinance with a police power ordinance. Instead board members should follow the ordinance amendment process mandated by the Zoning Enabling Act, which would include having public hearings in the community.
Legal postponement led others to believe the moratorium was also an “improper procedure.”
“The old township attorney we had said this was not the way to do this,” said Schriber during the meeting. “It’s an improper procedure. I also spoke with two other attorneys and they also said the exact same thing. So I find it very difficult for me to believe a new attorney that I know nothing about that seems to be siding on the against side of wind energy. So I guess that’s my opinion.”
Current Almer Township attorney Mike Homier of Lansing’s Foster, Swift, Collins & Smith, P.C., OK’d the procedure for the board to continue with the moratorium.
According to Land Use Moratoria from Division of Local Government Services in New York, a police power moratorium allows “the authority possessed by municipal governments to take action to advance the public health, safety and welfare” – a mantra members of the township board like Almer Charter Township Supervisor Mantey have said repeatedly.
“We aren’t stopping any deliberation,” said Mantey in response to Schriber. “The moratorium is specifically written so if there are changes made or we come to an agreement on the zoning ordinance on the wind energy conversion system, then we’ll move forward.”
Trustee Art Graff also added his two cents in the matter, prior to the board making the final decision.
“I think that the more discussion and the more interaction between the planning commission in the last two meetings,” said Graff. “There’s been more talk, there’s been more interest in the last two planning commission meetings than I’ve seen in months since I’ve been coming to any of these meetings. The questions are probably coming to light where they’re probably getting some answers.”
The township meeting did not go without public comment from local residents.
Jim Block, who owns land in Almer Township, addressed NextEra, saying the planning commission gave the company a pass.
“The planning commission was dog-gone generous to you because they should’ve just rejected you the second time through, you came through with the same BS,” he said. “I think that anyone who says they haven’t been given a fair chance by the planning commission up to this point is incredible because they’ve been more and more fair.”
Wayne Koper, a member of the Ellington-Almer Township Concerned Citizens group, thanked the board for passing the moratorium before explaining he expects turbines to become state mandated in the near future.
“Sometime in the near future it will be taken out of our hands like emergency financial managers, Proposal 1 (Michigan Sales Tax Increase for Transportation Amendment), Michigan Medical Marihuana Act – they’ve all gone back to the state legislature and taken out of the hands of the people,” said Koper.
“What I’m counting on most is Jan. 20, when president-elect Donald Trump will be taking the oath of office for the president of the United States. And he dislikes these things because they’re installing them right off one of his premire golf courses in Scotland and that’s going to be sufficient enough for the president of the United States of America to wanna stop all subsidies for wind energy. And I think that’s absolutely an astounding thought.”
After the meeting, Chuck Dennis, former member of the township board, said anyone can go to the Internet to get negative information on windmills or any other topic but if someone looks thoroughly, positive information can be found.
He claims the current board consists of retired teachers and engineers, but one has been successful “in feeding out propaganda that is not really truthful and I think they’ve been successful in dividing the township people.”
Township Treasurer Patricia Witkovsky said after the meeting, current township attorney Homier gave his legal expertise that the process was done correctly and will depend on his advice.
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