SIDNEY TOWNSHIP – In their first-ever Zoom meeting, which was plagued with audio and internet issues, the Sidney Township Board voted to place a six-month moratorium on issuing wind permits.
More than 70 people virtually participated in Monday evening’s meeting, which was the board’s first meeting since November 2020 after they didn’t meet in December or January due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Along with echoing, distorted and ringing audio throughout the meeting and the entire township board being kicked off Zoom for about 10 minutes due to poor internet connectivity, there was also confusion in the Zoom chat function.
Repeated comments – which came across as sarcastic and rude to many audience members – were posted in the chat box from who appeared to be Township Clerk Carrie Wills, including repeatedly calling Montcalm County Citizens United Facebook page administrator Erik Benko of Sidney Township “little eric,” responding to a question from Douglass Township Planning Commissioner Cindy Shick with “none of your business cindy” and telling Norm Stephens of Caro to “pipe down” and “go home.”
“Are you 12, really?” Benko declared in response during public comment. “Is anybody reading these comments?”
After the meeting, the Daily News confirmed the chat comments were actually posted by Trustee Jed Welder who was using Wills’ computer for Zoom (and thus her name). Welder said he apologized to Wills after the meeting for any confusion.
Welder and Benko have some history, dating back at least to this past fall when Benko says Welder – a farmer who owns land across the road from Benko – placed pro-wind energy signs, along with a small pinwheel, on his own property. Welder has previously confirmed he has signed a lease agreement with Apex and Welder excused himself from last November’s Sidney Township Board meeting due to the possible conflict of interest.
Welder did not excuse himself from Monday’s meeting, but he told the Daily News after the meeting that he did not cast a vote regarding either of the two wind-related votes – one of which was to send the township Planning Commission’s drafted wind ordinance to an attorney in Grand Rapids for review, and the other of which was to place a six-month moratorium on township-issued wind permits.
Treasurer Corinda Stover made the moratorium motion, which passed 4-0 with Stover, Wills, Supervisor Terry Peterman and Trustee Rey Leyrer voting “yes” and Welder abstaining.
“This freezes everything,” Stover summarized. “There’s no movement on anything until the ordinance comes through. Everybody’s afraid this is going to be snuck in somehow or something like that. This puts a freeze on things.”
After the meeting, the Daily News asked several township officials for a copy of the draft wind ordinance (with the understanding that it is still being reviewed by attorneys and changes could be made), but township officials declined to provide a copy at this time.
‘TEMPER THE TONE’
During Monday’s public comment, Benko noted the Montcalm County Citizens United Facebook group now has more than 2,000 members.
“We are working on a report that will irrefutably prove that Apex’s claims of money, money, money are false,” Benko announced. “This report will be delivered to each board member and Planning Commission member for the next meeting.”
Robert Scott of Sidney Township said he’s been creating a map to show which local landowners have signed leases with Apex so far. He added that he emailed Albert Jongewaard of Apex to request this information as well, but, “Essentially, his answer was no, you can’t have it.
“This is unbearably sparse information,” Scott said. “The least they can do is tell you where they leased property. You folks can insist that they provide you with copies of leased properties. And then you should make it public so the rest of us can see it and see where they are going to put turbines. At least we should know where they might be putting those turbines. I’m asking you to insist that they give you copies of those unrecorded leases.”
Jongewaard was present via Zoom as well and responded to this.
“We are not in the process right now of submitting an application to the township,” Jongewaard emphasized. “You are right that when we get to that point – if we get to that point – we will disclose that information. … We’re a private company operating in good faith with the community and not doing anything improper or illegal. Quite frankly that information is not public information at this point.”
Jongewaard then directed his comments toward the Montcalm County Citizens United Facebook group.
“We have seen some abuses to landowners in the community with people going door to door and making threats to landowners, so with all respect I would request that you temper the tone on the Facebook group,” Jongewaard said. “There’s allegations being made that are not true, are inappropriate and are threatening to landowners who are your neighbors. There doesn’t need to be threatening tones made from one neighbor to another.”
Benko said he personally goes to great lengths to make sure this doesn’t happen via his Facebook group.
“None of the leaseholders should be harassed or bothered in any way, shape or form,” Benko emphasized. “It’s purely informational and I just want to make that clear.”
“I appreciate that and I hope you continue that because I’m not making this up,” Jongewaard responded. “I find it offensive that this type of action is taking place.”
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