When the possibility of wind turbines became a reality in Ingersoll Township, a major concern for Supervisor Chuck Tabb was the possible division among neighbors, friends and even family members. Unfortunately, that concern has become a reality.
At Monday night’s board meeting, Trustee Jim Terwillegar took issue with Tabb and the replacement of township planning commission member George Schaller.
As a new business item on Monday, Terwillegar raised his concern regarding Tabb’s role in the resignation of Schaller from the commission and the appointment of Matt Coffey to replace Schaller.
“I think there was an integrity breach in the way it was handled and done,” Terwillegar stated. “I don’t think any board in the past has ever acted in the way it has here on the wind generation. A planning commission member was asked to get off the board to be replaced by another. I never heard of that happening before.”
The allegation was followed by a passionate exchange between Terwillegar and Tabb regarding Schaller missing two planning commission meetings. Terwillegar stated that other members of the commission had missed two meetings, but were not asked to leave. Tabb responded that he gave Schaller the option of resigning when he realized that Schaller wasn’t going to attend the meetings and didn’t want to continue on the commission.
“He sent me a note (stating he didn’t want to continue). So, that is where we’re at,” Tabb responded. “By state law I have the responsibility to appoint a replacement and the board has to approve it. We voted 3-2 to do that.”
Terwillegar then introduced an email that Tabb had sent to the members of his private home association. The email explained the progress of the wind turbine issue.
“It was sent to the 15 property owners as a ‘heads-up’ of what is going on,” Tabb said. “This email was for my association, not for the broad township. I had to give them a ‘heads-up’ which was my responsibility.”
Terwillegar read part of the email, which said, “The introduction of wind turbines will only benefit a few residents at the expense of many.”
Terwillegar had also brought a list of the financial ramifications of wind turbines in Gratiot County.
“In a Midland Daily New article, you said, ‘the township has all kinds of money. We have excess money,’” Terwillegar said to Tabb.
(The Daily News article of March 14 reads: “They say that it increases the tax base. But, with a township like Ingersoll, we aren’t going hand-to-mouth,” Tabb said. “We’ve maintained a good fund balance ($1.2 million) for the purpose of a rainy day.”
But, it was Terwillegar’s belief that residents believed the township could use the money.
“We have the bridges that the county could use the money to build. We have roads to rebuild and school debt that everybody pays on with their taxes. That may be erased if we allow wind turbines to come in here and we receive tax revenue from,” Terwillegar responded. “This benefits everybody in this township and everybody in this room. Not just a few.”
On March 22, the township held an informational meeting where a DTE representative presented reasoning for installing wind turbines. The meeting drew about 200 people, and 20 people addressed the public. Fifteen spoke against, two in favor and three others were seeking more information or were neutral. However, none of the speakers were from what Tabb termed, “The Terwillegar bubble.”
During the session a straw poll was taken regarding wind turbines and 85 percent responded that they opposed the turbines, stated Tabb.
“The message to me was, ‘If wind turbines come into the township, you are not listening to what the township residents as a whole want, and you should be recalled,’” Tabb said. “So, my thoughts were that either I need to resign, or I need to represent those 85 percent that didn’t want to see wind turbines come in. I perfectly understand the business decision. The problem we have is that it has divided our relationships. It’s divided our friendships. I could have walked away, but there would have been a lot more people mad at me because I didn’t stand there and act on what the majority of residents wanted to do.”
Still seeking an answer, Terwillegar pointedly questioned Tabb, “Why did you ask George Schaller to resign?”
“Because I knew that I pressured him to get on for one more year,” Tabb responded. “And I knew he didn’t really want to do that. I knew that he missed two meetings and that demonstrated that he had an issue.”
Before opening up the meeting for public comment, Terwillegar made a motion stating that, “Matt Coffey be removed from the planning commission and George Schaller should have the option to come back, or the position should be empty until the wind generation is figured out one way or another.”
The motion was defeated, 3-2. Tabb, Mary Ellen Keel and Curtis Shaffner all voted against the motion. Jim and Jacob Terwillegar voted in favor of it.
Following 20 minutes of intense public comment, as the majority of those in attendance voiced their opposition to Schaller being removed from the planning commission, Keel made a motion to rescind the previous motion and ask Schaller if he would be willing to return to the planning commission for another year. Or, if Schaller is not willing, to leave the position open until the wind turbine issue if resolved. The motion passed, 5-0.
Tabb agreed to visit Schaller about returning to the commission. Ron Garrett, chairman of the planning commission, agreed to go along with Tabb.
However, since the next planning commission meeting is next Monday, another unanimous vote was taken to reinstate Schaller immediately if he should agree.
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