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Montcalm Township public hearing on wind ordinance won’t occur until August

MONTCALM TOWNSHIP – A wind energy ordinance public hearing for Montcalm Township residents will now not take place until August.

The Montcalm Township Planning Commission drafted a proposed ordinance in August 2020, but has yet to solidify it with a public hearing and potential recommendation to the township board.

The Planning Commission was last scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance on Dec. 2, but that meeting was canceled due to coronavirus restrictions. Additionally, the regular monthly township board meeting in December 2020 was canceled, meaning Wednesday’s meeting of the Montcalm Township Board was its first since November 2020 – and also its first held virtually via Zoom with nearly 50 people in attendance.

Although the topic was not on the board’s agenda Wednesday, it was brought up during public comment when township resident Richelle Lentz questioned the status of the ordinance.

“I think the new proposed wind ordinance was posted on the (township) website and I’m wondering if that’s the final draft or if it’s still being worked on?” she asked. “Is the Planning Commission having additional discussions?”

“That’s what stands right now,” Township Supervisor Doug Crowley responded.

Lentz said she has concerns about ordinance changes and she previously sent an email to the township board with suggestions – including proposed protections to be put in place for the township regarding decommissioning of wind turbines and additional protections for non-participating land owners, among others.

“Our current wind ordinance is pretty slim in those areas and I don’t think it’s in the best interest of everyone,” Lentz said. “I recognize that property owners should be allowed to do certain things on their property to make money, but I don’t think that should infringe on the rights of non-participating property owners. I’d like to see the planning commission put more effort into looking into non-participating property owners as much as they have into participating property owners.”

Crowley said the subject won’t likely be discussed again at the level of the Township Board for some time.

“The soonest we’ll even have a public hearing on this would be in August,” he said. “So there’s time to take a look at everything and get back to you. I know you and a couple other residents have sent things into our office in the last couple of days and we just have to take a look at it and we will go from there.”

In hearing that the Planning Commission wouldn’t be holding a public hearing on the topic until August, former township trustee Tim Rau, speaking from his new residence in Kansas, said he was hopeful the township board would provide appropriate communication in publicizing the hearing.

“I just want to make sure, when the public hearing does come about, that there is ample information out there, that people know about it coming up,” Rau said. “It seems a lot of times people don’t know about it coming up … so what are your proposals (to address that)?”

Crowley said the township will do what it is legally obligated to do.

“We’ll publish it (in the Daily News) just like we always do,” he said. “And everything is on our website now. So we’ll go from there.”

Lentz and other attendees asked if any additional steps can be taken to communicate the meeting to the public.

“With other townships, meetings have gotten explosive,” Lentz noted. “I think it would be in the township’s best interest if we could find a way to let them (residents) know that this is happening, that there is a big push to put industrial wind turbines in our area.”

“We advertise it on our website and we have to publish it in the newspaper, that’s what we’ll do,” Crowley reiterated. “We’ll do our best to make sure everybody knows.”

Grand Rapids resident Robert Scott, who owns a cottage on Nevins Lake in Sidney Township, asked if the township board would be willing to expand on its communication.

“If the planning commission isn’t going to hold a public hearing until August, the summer tax bill would be an opportune time to let us know it’s being considered,” Scott said.

“You’re asking if we can notify people in the summer tax bill?” Crowley asked.

“Yes … Everybody in the township would know it’s being considered,” Scott said. “It’s a big deal that 600-foot turbines are being put in your township.”

“We can do that,” Crowley answered.

Virginia-based Apex Clean Energy has secured a number of lease agreements with private property owners in townships throughout Montcalm County as it progresses toward proposed plans to construct a $600 million wind turbine farm to be known as “Montcalm Wind.”

That project as proposed would result in “fewer than” 75 wind turbines, spaced approximately a quarter to a half-mile apart from each other, on active farmland, with a proposed height of around 600 feet for each turbine, according to Apex.

The project would generate up to 375 megawatts – powering up to 90,000 homes – and also generate an estimated “tens of millions of dollars” in lease payments and taxes paid out to local entities during the life of the project, according to Apex.

Several townships, including Douglass, Maple Valley, Pierson, Pine, Sidney and Winfield, have either passed new or amended ordinances related to renewable energy and, more specifically, wind turbines, or they are in the stages of reevaluating current ordinances.