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Winfield Township residents voice concerns about wind project

WINFIELD TOWNSHIP – A three-hour joint meeting of the Winfield Township Board and the Winfield Township Planning Commission on Monday evening included a good hour and a half of public comment on the subject of a pending wind energy facility ordinance.

About 40 people attended the meeting, which was held via Zoom. (See accompanying story about legal advice provided by township-hired attorney Bill Fahey at the meeting.)

Courtney Fisk of Winfield Township, an attorney herself, immediately clashed with Kyle O’Meara, the law partner of Fahey who was helping run Monday’s meeting. O’Meara took notes during public comment so the public’s questions could be addressed by Fahey at the end of the meeting.

After a woman who only identified herself as “Carol” had finished speaking, Fisk interjected, “Carol, I think you should ask your question again because it’s pretty clear that Kyle was not taking notes.”

“Just to clarify, I was taking notes,” responded O’Meara, appearing amused by the comment.

Fisk then spoke at length about wind regulations, going over her allotted three minutes for public comment.

“I am for wind energy, however, I am not for wind energy when it comes at the sacrifices that we have been looking at for the last three months,” Fisk said. “Our municipal attorneys (Sluggett and Bloom in Grand Rapids) have not been involved in this whatsoever and that is my No. 1 concern in this. Maybe you should have contacted them and tried to involve them in this from the beginning.

“No. 2, your company, Apex (Clean Energy), has been only contacting the farmers in this community who have large pieces of land because obviously, you need a large piece of land to put these wind turbines on. You’re asking these farmers who own property here and then the renters and the rest of the residents here have to just deal with it.

“You are not our municipal attorneys,” said Fisk, addressing O’Meara and Fahey.

“We actually are,” O’Meara responded.

“No, you’re not,” Fisk declared, upon which O’Meara then muted her on Zoom.

“We actually are,” O’Meara repeated. “Bill and I both represent the township – we don’t represent Apex.”

Multiple residents from Indian Lake in Winfield Township also spoke during public comment.

Dot Hoffman said she travels from San Francisco, California, to Indian Lake for the peace and quiet.

“The only noise I want to hear on that lake is the noise of loons,” she said. “It feels really sneaky that leases were signed ahead of time (with some township officials).”

“I’ve lived out here nearly my whole life,” lake resident David Johnson said. “It brings me to tears to think that we could potentially just be changing this whole landscape that we have here. Once this ordinance is in place and towers are erected, there’s no turning back the clock. This is how this area would be from now on. And that terrifies me.”

“You pushed us to look at this stuff by sneaking around and getting signatures and all of a sudden we’re slapped with all of this that they’re going to be in our backyard,” lake resident Brenda Gartzke said. “What do you think the value of our property is going to look like when those turbines are sticking up in the air and you can see them for two doggone miles?

“We do have the right to referendum and we will be exercising it,” Gartzke said.

Apex Development Manager Albert Jongewaard was present at Monday’s meeting as well.

“I think it’s been a pretty good dialogue tonight and I appreciate hearing all the questions,” Jongewaard said. “For the folks on Indian Lake, we hear you loud and clear and we have no intention of building near Indian Lake. However, that being said, wind turbines are tall – and we don’t feel it’s right to tell farmers a few miles away what they can and can’t do on their property.”

Dan Paris is a Winfield Township resident who works on behalf of Apex. He referred to the Montcalm County Citizens United Facebook group which has more than 1,500 members.

“There is an enormous, well-organized, well-funded anti-wind group that tries to stop these projects,” Paris said. “Anybody who lives here has the right to speak their mind, but what I hope some of you understand who are taking a negative perspective is this anti-wind movement is putting out a lot of these views. If you think you’re doing research, you’re just listening to the opposition, you’re not necessarily getting the facts. Rather than listen to lobbyists that have their own ideas about stopping wind projects, maybe try to talk to some of the people who are actually involved.”

These comments from Paris did not go over well with Robert and Kay Scott, who live on Nevins Lake in Sidney Township, where a wind ordinance is also being considered.

“The issue that I have is the sneaking and everything that’s under the radar and now tonight you have completely tried to undermine our efforts,” Kay Scott said. “The videos that we have put on there (the Facebook page) are personal experiences largely of people who have had to live near wind turbines. This is not simply opinion, these are experiences of people who have had terrible health effects. When Apex is done here and these things are running, where’s the recourse? It’s like living with a strobe light outside every window of your house. So don’t undermine what we’re doing. This is real, these issues are real. You need to listen to people who have experienced it.”

Winfield Township Board Trustee Steve Cole said he has personally researched turbines and visited properties with turbines on them. Cole added that he has not signed a contract with Apex.

“One person said they loved to sit and watch the windmill and the sound wasn’t even enough to say that there was any,” Cole said. “They said the road that they lived on made more sound than the windmill does.”

Planning Commission Chairman Chris Rader ended Monday’s meeting by noting that township officials have been discussing the wind ordinance in public meetings for more than a year now.

“It’s something we take very seriously,” Rader said. “We haven’t approved anything yet. We’re still a long way from approving something.”