DOUGLASS TOWNSHIP – The first-ever Zoom meeting of the Douglass Township Board saw 86 people participating remotely Wednesday evening, many of them voicing concerns about the township’s new wind turbine ordinance.
The ordinance – which was approved by the township board on Nov. 4, 2020, after the Planning Commission hosted a public hearing on Oct. 30, 2020 – is now in the process of going to a voter referendum as soon as May.
According to Township Clerk Ronda Snyder, 35 pages of petitions containing 260 signatures were submitted to the township with 231 of those signatures from valid registered electors. Since a total of 955 votes were cast for Michigan’s governor in Douglass Township in 2018, 15% of that amount was needed for a referendum – a minimum of 144 signatures – a threshold which was easily met by concerned township citizens.
The township’s attorney, Mark Nettleton of Mika Meyers in Grand Rapids, said he will have for the board’s consideration at their Feb. 3 meeting a resolution to place the wind ordinance on the ballot during the May 4 regular election in Montcalm County.
Wednesday’s meeting got heated at times, with township officials defending their actions to audience members concerned about Apex Clean Energy.
Supervisor Terry Anderson noted that typical audience attendance at most township board meetings is “dismal at best.”
“We started working on this ordinance back in 2016,” Anderson said. “We heard rumblings that the wind turbine people were coming to town. We didn’t hear of Apex at that time. We’re getting blamed for favoring Apex, it’s not true, we didn’t even hear of them at the time.
“We held at least eight public hearings on this,” Anderson declared. “Nobody shows up to our public hearings. We passed an ordinance that honestly we as a board think is a good ordinance. We spent a lot of time working on it. Everything we did was up front and legal. Nobody comes to the public hearings and then, when it’s all over, Johnny-come-lately, everybody complains about it. We don’t necessarily love turbines and we don’t necessarily hate them. We’re trying to do what’s best for our community. We’re getting accused of things that are absolutely not true.”
Planning Commission Chairman Jack Jeppesen agreed about typical meeting attendance, noting, “it’s pretty amazing that when there’s a crisis, everyone shows up.
“It seems pretty funny that … one of the opponents of this, their husband actually seconded the motion for this,” Jeppesen added. “It’s pretty funny that all of a sudden they didn’t know about it. The same person whose spouse is spearheading the push against this ordinance, they seconded the motion to adopt the ordinance and they seconded the motion to send it on to the full board. It’s kind of ironic that they didn’t know about it and their spouse knew about it at the same time.
Jeppesen then referenced someone “wearing a mask” who stopped by his property on Monday to drop off a packet of letters from citizens concerned about the wind ordinance.
“As far as I’m concerned, that’s short of domestic terrorism,” Jeppesen declared. “How do I know they didn’t go into our milk house? They could’ve put poison into our milk.”
Jeppesen also posted on the township’s Facebook page before Wednesday’s meeting that he would be contacting police about the incident.
Planning Commission member Rick Baldwin responded to Jeppesen’s claims about who seconded the wind ordinance motion.
“I did do the seconds on the motions,” Baldwin admitted. “I didn’t do my homework. I didn’t know what 55 decibels sounded like. I know now what 52 decibels sounds like and it’s quite loud.”
Baldwin also responded to Jeppesen’s comments about people visiting him at his property.
“If a resident wanted to bring me information for any reason, I would gladly take it,” Baldwin said. “My wife is not spearheading this but my wife is local. There’s some real issues with what we passed that can be corrected, but what we got is just wrong.
“I apologize to residents and to my fellow members,” Baldwin added, referring to his role in approving the wind ordinance.
Baldwin’s wife, Christa Baldwin, called for Jeppesen to resign as chairman of the Planning Commission.
“I was told that packet that was handed out, that the board was very offended by it,” Christa said. “I was offended by that remark because that group put a whole lot of work into it, they put heartfelt emotion into it and they put a lot of search into it. The commissioner who insulted us and also made allegations against me I think needs to look at resigning. I think that was very uncalled for and I’m very disappointed in him.”
Planning Commission member Cindy Shick expressed remorse for her role in approving the wind ordinance.
“At first I listened to Mr. (Albert) Jongewaard (of Apex) give his presentations and make his recommendations and I thought I have to say, I’m on a windy hill, put one up here,” Shick recounted. “Since then I have researched and realized the ordinance I was a party to does not protect the safety or welfare of the residents of Douglass Township.
“Infrasound is more dangerous than anything you can hear,” she declared. “Infrasound will alter the tissue in my heart, my kidneys, my liver. Infrasound will impact animals and their ability to reproduce, proceed milk, live, thrive. Infrasound can cause deformities after birth in animals. Give me the opportunity to right the wrong I feel I have done to this township.”
Other comments voiced by township residents at Wednesday’s meeting included Sheila Crooks accusing Apex officials of lying; Linda Reynolds wondering if wind turbines would interfere with 911 calls or prevent Aeromed from landing in the township; and Christy Williams voicing concern that turbines would negatively affect her inner ear and vertigo issues.
Public comment ended with Ron Finegood, a Stanton-based attorney, repeatedly questioning the ethics of Nettleton, the township’s attorney, to the point where township officials finally muted Finegood via Zoom.
“Ron, I don’t mean to interrupt, but right now we don’t care about your opinion,” an exasperated Anderson declared. “We hired him (Nettleton) to run this meeting and we would appreciate it if you would leave us alone.”