BAD AXE – Things went smoothly at the Huron County Planning Commission meeting Wednesday night – until the final minutes.
During final planning commission comment, county Building and Zoning Director Jeff Smith invited wind turbine noise complainant Robert Gaffke to sign a permission slip to conduct noise testing on his property, as part of the complaint resolution effort.
On Sept. 25, the Huron County Board of Commissioners suspended action on hiring ABD Engineering & Design to test at three sites that were the sources of noise complaints.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Todd Talaski urged Smith to get signatures from each complainant that would allow testing on their property, before the county commits to spending $24,500 on a noise study.
At that same meeting, Gaffke announced he would have no part in the test.
Wednesday, Smith said he had wrestled with the fact that each of the three complainants signed complaint forms that were submitted to building and zoning.
“I think it’s pretty much implied that those complainants cooperate,” he added.
He then presented the permission slip that was ready for Gaffke’s signature.
He noted on three occasions, Gaffke agreed to the testing.
It was then that planning commission chairman Robert McLean began to interrupt Smith.
“If you’re going to address just one person –,” McLean said.
“I’m going to address everyone,” Smith answered.
McLean added: “We don’t want this to be a back and forth.”
“It’s not a back and forth, Bob,” Smith replied.
McLean then suggested Smith supply Gaffke with a copy of ABD’s proposal along with an invitation to sign the permission slip.
“You can’t expect somebody to sign (and let them) do whatever they want to do there,” McLean said.
He then stated he wasn’t taking anybody’s side.
Smith said the planning commission is not involved in the complaint resolution process.
“The county board has adopted what the process is,” Smith said. “The planning commission’s not involved in that.”
McLean and Smith then started to talk over each another.
McLean: “You’re involving us now in it.”
Smith: “I’m just saying, I’ve been requested to gain permission from the property owners … Mr. Gaffke’s here, so if he would like to sign the permission slip, that’s fine.”
McLean: “You can take that up with him after the meeting. Because you’re dragging us into it.”
Smith: “There’s a lot of comments made at a lot of different meetings … (Gaffke) has accused me and Steve Allen, and I’m tired of it. It’s not my rule. It’s the county’s process. It’s the county’s ordinance.”
McLean interrupted again: “Jeff. Jeff,”
Smith: “Bob, just let me …”
McLean: “It comes with public office. You’re out in the public, same as I am.”
Smith: “Correct. And I have to answer to the public on all the rules that I have to follow every single day. What I’m saying is I’ve been requested to get permission…”
McLean: “Are you asking us to help you, to get involved?”
Smith: “If you let me get to that point, yes.”
Smith: “So, as the zoning administrator, I am asking the planning commission to request Mr. Gaffke to cooperate, like he has stated at two different planning commission meetings in the past, and at a board of commissioners’ meeting just recently…”
Smith added there have been reports stating he hasn’t defended himself at all from others’ comments criticizing him.
“And I’m to the point where I’m fed up,” he said. “I follow the rules. I follow the complaint resolution process. I follow the county’s ordinance. And I’m asking for cooperation.
“I have people complain every day. But they cooperate. And we resolve – we work to resolve them. If they don’t cooperate, I write them a ticket.”
He said there’s no avenue for that in the wind energy complaint resolution process.
McLean said that exposes some of the weaknesses in the process.
Smith went on to say that without testing, how would the complaint be properly investigated?
Gaffke then interjected: “That’s not the issue.”
McLean cut him off.
When Smith began to speak, McLean said, “… Let’s stop right now.”
He suggested Smith provide him with the permission slips and ABD’s proposal.
“And I will see if I can mediate this for you,” McLean said.
Smith said it needs to be a joint effort, and invited McLean to accompany him in a visit to all of the property owners.
Smith said he was game.
“But there’s too much behind the scenes, backdoor stuff that’s going on–” he said.
McLean interrupted: “Let’s not air our dirty laundry here.”
“And I’m not going to tolerate it,” Smith continued. “It’s been aired at every meeting and no one stops it.”
“Well, I’m trying to stop it now,” McLean said. “I’m asking you to reign it in. Let’s let calm, cool heads prevail … Let’s see if we can work through this.”
Smith said he was updating the planning commission about the board’s desire for him to seek permission slips.
“There’s obviously friction,” McLean said. “There’s obviously problems –”
“There’s’ not problems,” Smith answered. “The only problem is lack of cooperation.”
McLean said this discussion shows a “glaring void” in the complaint resolution process.
Smith countered: “What’s wrong with the process, Bob, if there’s cooperation by all parties … Cooperate and get it done instead of dragging it out for two years now.”
The Gaffke complaint originated in Oct. of 2016.
After further banter between Smith and McLean, Planner Terry Heck asked to be recognized.
He said an issue with the process is that the board of commissioners did not ask for multiple bids for testing.
“They’re going outside of their protocol,” Heck said. “That’s why I wouldn’t support this. That’s wrong.”
Smith said it’s not the same as repairing a building. The complaint resolution process states the county does an investigation, and data is needed at the complainant location.
“The only way we’re going to get anywhere is to have cooperation,” Smith said. “That’s all I’m asking.”
Planner Bernie Creguer said if the complainant can’t follow the board of commissioners’ complaint resolution process, “They’re being negligent themselves … If this board isn’t backing you, I think that’s negligence on everybody’s part.”
McLean restated this is revealing deficiencies in the complaint resolution process.
“There might not be any,” Creguer said. “It’s just lack of cooperation.”
Planner Bob Tenbusch said he agrees that bids should have been taken for the sound study.
Smith said the board chose ABD because of their history with the county and because they have no skin in the game.
The meeting adjourned at 9:47.
Smith then delivered the permission slip to Gaffke, who put it in his briefcase.