Proponents of a wind energy project proposed for northwestern Isabella County are warning residents in five townships that going alone on zoning will increase taxes and not necessarily stop the turbines.
Supporters of the anti-turbine group Isabella Wind Watch have placed proposals on the August ballot in five townships calling for local control over zoning.
All five – Vernon, Gilmore, Isabella, Denver and Nottawa – have long been zoned and enforced by county government, which does not charge for the service.
But going it alone, starting with picking unbiased board members and creating a master plan, is a process that will take many months and will result in an estimated 3 mill tax increase, said Jim McBryde, president of Middle Michigan Development.
“The proposals and the recalls are a scare tactic,” McBryde said. “This is not about planning and zoning. It’s about stopping a project that I think will be great for our county and for energy independence.”
Language has been approved to potentially recall Denver Township Supervisor John Pedjac and the county Elections Commission will meet Monday to consider efforts targeting Trustee Robert Walton and Supervisor Jeff Bean in Isabella Township.
If approved, and if enough signatures are collected in support, those recalls would appear on the November ballot.
Meanwhile, wind turbine supporters say the proposed zoning changes are a tax increase sparked by a single issue and won’t necessarily stop the project.
“These may be a proxy issue of sorts, but they are not votes on wind energy,” said Albert Jongewaard, public affairs manager for Apex Clean Energy.
“Wind is not on the ballot. We’re concerned, but as far as the project is concerned we are not stopping.”
Both McBryde and Jongewaard also question the anonymous tactics of Isabella Wind Watch, which filed election documents indicating they would not spend more than $1,000 but have since sent glossy mass-mailings in all five townships and bought billboard space, among other expenses.
“These anti-wind groups are using goon squad tactics around the state, and I take offense to that,” McBryde said.
Three of the townships – Vernon, Nottawa and Denver – are asking voters to approve up to 3 mills in taxes to fund creating their own planning and zoning departments.
That levy would cost $210 a year to the owner of a $140,000 home with a State Equalized Value of $70,000.
Costs and paying for them are not mentioned in the Gilmore and Isabella proposals.
Among critics of the solo zoning is Don Schurr, who helped coordinate inter-governmental planning that led to the first wind project in Gratiot County.
Schurr said he hates to see townships isolate themselves with patchwork zoning that would prevent many types of major economic development.
Schurr, a Union Township resident who long held the same position in Gratiot as McBryde does in Isabella, praised the governments that teamed to pave the path for Gratiot’s project.
“Twenty-two units of government came together and created a master plan together,” Schurr said of Gratiot, which began the plan before any wind projects were proposed. “I hate to see a county’s zoning become fragmented for a negative issue and not for a positive one.”
Schurr, McBryde and Jongewaard are all members of Citizens for Sensible Government, a Rosebush-based group lobbying in favor of the wind proposal.
Among the members is also Bob Thompson, supervisor of Sherman Township and a longtime former member of the Isabella County Planning Commission.
Having moved from county planning to township government, Thompson said moving to county zoning, after years of having their own, was among his first goals in Sherman.
Thompson said Sherman Township spent $12-15,000 a year in the beginning creating its own zoning – including a master plan, ordinances, zoning commission and a board of appeals – and $8,000 to $10,000 a year once it was running.
County zoning does not cost the townships anything, he said.
“This would appear to be a situation where the single issue is wind energy,” he said. “You cannot zone a legal use out of existence.”
Under the heading “Stop higher taxes,” Citizens for Sensible Government is also working on mailings to residents of the five townships outlining the exact ballot language and reasons they oppose the proposed zoning switches.
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