DOUGLASS TOWNSHIP – For the second time in two weeks, Douglass Township officials hosted a heated meeting centered on the township’s wind ordinance.
More than 70 people attended Wednesday evening’s Planning Commission meeting, mostly via Zoom.
The meeting immediately got off to a contentious start when Planning Commission chairman nominations were being accepted for the new year. Two nominations were offered – one for Jack Jeppesen (who was chairman last year) and one for Todd Wells.
Doug Poulsen, a Douglass Township Board trustee and the Planning Commission secretary, pointed to repeated absences by Wells as a reason why Wells shouldn’t be chairman.
“I went back and looked at the last five years,” Poulsen said to Wells. “We’ve had 29 planning meetings and you’ve only made 16 of them. I’m sorry, but that’s what’s in the minutes. That’s barely half.”
Planning Commissioner Cindy Shick then voiced her opposition to Jeppesen being chairman.
“I’m concerned with our current chairman and some of the things he’s said publicly and in past meetings,” Shick said. “He asked community members to shut up while they were speaking and he posted on social media and stated at the township board meeting using … the phrase ‘domestic terrorism.’ I have a serious problem with that.”
Shick was referring to comments made by Jeppesen at the Jan. 6 Douglass Township Board meeting, which the Daily News previously wrote about.
On Wednesday, Jeppesen doubled down on his comments.
“I had a person show up at my place of work with a mask on who didn’t state who they were or what purpose they were there for,” he recounted. “They walked into my milk house. How do I know they didn’t put poison into my vault tank?
“That person comes in, asked for Tom and I, handed Tom and I these envelopes, said ‘here’s your information for Wednesday night’s meeting,’ turned around and left,” he said. “I didn’t know who the person was. Why didn’t he state who he was? Why? He never said a word. He walked in, did that, turned around and left. How would you like it if someone come in where you were working, walked in, asked who you were, handed you some stuff and left like that? With a mask on?”
“We’re supposed to. Our governor tells us to (wear masks),” Shick pointed out.
“Well our governor was down at the inauguration (on Wednesday) and she says only 25 people are allowed at an outdoor gathering – I think there were more than 25 people in Washington that day,” Jeppesen said.
“I felt threatened,” he declared. “How did I know this guy didn’t have a gun?”
“It is not domestic terrorism,” Shick emphasized.
“To me, it was,” Jeppesen responded.
“And also how can you tell people to shut up?” Shick asked him.
“I don’t believe I’ve ever come right out and told people to shut up,” Jeppesen responded.
Shick pressed him on this, leading Jeppesen to finally admit, “Maybe I did.”
“I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Shick noted.
After this exchange, the Planning Commission then cast their votes for chairman. Jeppesen, Poulsen, Kevin Rush and Tim Snyder voted for Jeppesen while Rick Baldwin, Shick and Wells voted for Wells.
“Jack’s going to be the chairman for one more year,” Douglass Township Supervisor Terry Anderson summarized.
Poulsen was reappointed secretary of the Planning Commission.
‘I AM ANGRY, GENTLEMEN’
After an hour and a half of discussion about campers, RVs and boat storage in the township, the Planning Commission then turned to the topic of its wind ordinance, which was approved by the Planning Commission in October 2020 and by the township board in November 2020.
The wind ordinance is set to go to a voter referendum in May after 231 valid signatures from concerned citizens were submitted to the township (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).
On Wednesday, the Planning Commission discussed whether to host an informational meeting on the topic before May’s vote, as recommended by the township’s planner, Tim Johnson of Main Street Planing.
“The petitions have been circulated … for the wind energy so that will be on the ballot in May,” Johnson summarized. “If it’s thrown out (by voters), the control of wind energy systems reverts back to the current ordinance you already have (from 2017) so the people who are against wind energy systems really haven’t really gained anything because you have an ordinance that still permits them under certain conditions. The new ordinance that’s on the referendum is a better ordinance, in my mind and I think yours, for controlling them. It’s more restrictive and it allows you to collect an escrow account.”
“The new one actually allows them to be closer and louder noise at their home,” Shick countered. “Also we did not address infrasound. Infrasound is not measured in decibels, it’s measured in hertz.”
Jeppesen said he believed the new ordinance was better because it provided more control to the township and allowed the Planning Commission to deny certain wind-related requests, but Shick said this was not accurate, noting a lawsuit brought by NextEra Energy Resources against Tuscola County’s Almer Township in 2017.
“Apex, or any wind energy that comes in here – they’re gonna sue us,” Shick declared.
“Why didn’t you bring this up?” Jeppesen asked Shick, referring to when she originally voted to approve the wind ordinance last year.
“Because I didn’t know it,” Shick said. “I started researching two weeks before our last meeting.”
Shick’s voice rose as she became increasingly upset during the discussion.
“And I was in quarantine,” she yelled. “So I wrote you a letter (voicing her concerns about the wind ordinance after it had been approved). I am angry, gentlemen. I am very angry and I am very disappointed that not one of you had the respect to write me a letter, send me an email, even tell me I’m an idiot.”
“So if I had told you you were an idiot, you would have still been pissed at me,” Jeppesen responded.
“At least I would have had an acknowledgment,” Shick said. “Feedback that disagrees with me, I can handle. I can handle name-calling. I cannot handle giving you intelligent information and not one of you responded.”
“I think we all need to look at it a little bit deeper because there’s a lot of concern out there,” Wells noted. “That’s why we’ve got 71 people on here (Zoom).”
“We need a moratorium on anything wind,” Shick declared.
“I haven’t signed a lease yet,” Jeppesen clarified. “But if we put a moratorium on them and Apex pulls out, who am I going to sue for the development rights I just lost? How many thousands of dollars am I going to be out with my development rights?”
“You would sue the township,” Shick responded.
As this discussion continued until 9 p.m., the meeting had been going for two hours. Audience members on Zoom became increasingly too impatient to wait for public comment, although it was clearly scheduled for the end of the meeting per the agenda.
“Everyone unmute and start talking,” local resident Melissa Bannen wrote on the Zoom chat function.
This resulted in a brief exchange of Zoom attendees interrupting the meeting and township officials muting them via Zoom.
Shick then made a motion that the township place a six-month moratorium on any wind permits. The motion passed 4-3 with Baldwin, Rush, Shick and Wells voting “yes” and Jeppesen, Poulsen and Snyder voting “no.”
However, Johnson then noted that a Planning Commission can’t enact a moratorium but can only recommend it to the township board. The Douglass Township Board is next scheduled to meet on Feb. 3.
An hour of public comment followed the Planning Commission’s moratorium vote.
At the end of Wednesday’s meeting, township officials tentatively set Feb. 24 as the date to host an informational meeting about the two wind ordinances. Township officials say they would like township board members and Planning Commission members to attend the meeting and they would like to hold the meeting in person, if possible.
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