BRANCH COUNTY – As people spoke out against DTE and its planned Branch County wind farm, a group coalesced and incorporated into Concerned Citizens of Branch County, a non-profit.
The leaders are newcomers, long time families, farmers, and recently returned who promise to make sure zoning regulation will protect the homes and health of the residents in the affected townships.
Wind turbine energy has been a goal of the green energy movement which moved into Michigan solidly over a decade ago.
Former Coldwater Public Safety Director Gary Chester, recently retired to his Union Township home, said, “This is truly grass roots. People getting together to help the community.”
Pam Reed, retired military wife and former child social worker, said, “We are not anti wind activists. We have no big awful agenda. We are defending our homes.”
Chester said those supporting green wind energy don’t understand the opposition.
“We may not be politically correct for opposing wind turbines. But they don’t live next to them,” he said.
Carey Gallup is raising her daughters, ages 9 and 11, on 30 acres of family land near Dunks and Girard Roads among uncles and cousins. Now her family can see the woods and stars during a quiet night. She is afraid of towering 300 foot or more wind mills with blinking red lights spoiling the view out of her windows.
“My home is not just my house, it’s all my property,” she said.
Gallup said, “We certainly don’t need skyscrapers with flashing lights.”
Neighbors on three sides have signed leases.
“Things do change,” Gallup admitted.
With wind turbines, “we really don’t know the impact. We really have only one chance. We don’t want regret; ‘God what have we done’,” she added.
Patti Miller and her husband Kevin have farmed off M-86 for 40 years.
“We are not anti-renewable energy. We are anti-improper siting of industrial wind turbines. I just feel like that can’t be said often enough,” she said, concerned a split is building among the farm community.
“We have lifelong friends and neighbors who are looking at this from another perspective, and we must ‘agree to disagree’ on this issue,” Miller said.
“The bottom line for us, personally, is that we feel we must do what we can to ensure that our local ordinances address the potential impact of turbines placed too close to non-participating property, whether that be a house and small lot or a farm with acreage,” Miller wants the public to know.
Reed said there are people who have signed leases with DTE who now have questions about the turbines because of issues raised by the group. She also said there are those, some business people, who support Concerned Citizens, but are afraid to be public because of concerns how those supporting the wind farms would react to them.
Miller added, about those on both sides of the issues, “I hope we are still friends after all this is over.”
She understands farms are huge investments and some struggle economically so they could use the lease payments.
Those who got together feel this is a David versus Goliath situation. They note large corporate DTE has three or four people full time in Branch County attending meeting and out in the community each day.
The Concerned Citizens are unpaid volunteers raising donations for flyers, signs, information, and an attorney.
Tom Godfrey said the (zoning and township) boards “are playing catch up” because the small rural townships have never had to deal with issues they now face. All the members want to keep the meetings and issues from becoming too contentious. Sometimes they do get hot.
Anna Keim and her husband moved back to Sherwood on Union Lake across from her family’s Riley Farm. Even though DTE and townships talk about protecting the lakes and rivers her concern is what will be visible across the region.
“We do not want incompatible land use or improper citing” for the turbines which some want to raise 500 feet to the top of the turbine blade.
Others are concerned with what happens if turbines are allowed once each is decommissioned. What safeguards are in place to guarantee removal?
“There are 40 truckloads of concrete in the ground (for each tower). All that won’t come out,” Miller said.
Reed said the group will watch each township closely for final zoning ordinances to make sure they meet health and safety standards, decommissioning requirements and how each tower will be placed on land.
The process has been slow and does not seem ready for a final decision yet.
State law allows for anyone to file a protest of a zoning ordinance seven days after it is passed, then take 30 days to collect signatures to put the ordinance on the ballot so voters in each township will have the final say.
The group is ready if they are not satisfied with what is passed.