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Pine Township Planning Commission hosts lengthy wind meeting  

Credit:  By Elisabeth Waldon | Daily News | February 04, 2021 | thedailynews.cc ~~

PINE TOWNSHIP – Pine Township’s current wind energy ordinance and whether it should be updated was the focus of a special three-hour Planning Commission meeting Tuesday evening which attracted up to 85 participants via Zoom.

Pine Township has a wind zoning ordinance dating back to 2011/2012 with some updates made in 2016. Township officials held Tuesday’s informational meeting to determine whether to make future updates to that ordinance in response to Apex Clean Energy’s proposed plan for Montcalm County.

Apex officials are currently researching the feasibility of a 75-turbine wind farm in 10 townships in Montcalm County. The 375MW project represents a potential $600 million investment in the county with an anticipated commercial operation start date of 2023 or 2024, according to Apex.

Albert Jongewaard, development manager for Apex, gave a presentation for the first 40 minutes of Tuesday’s meeting. He touted the economic benefits of the proposed project – an anticipated $338,610 in tax revenue over the project’s anticipated 25-year lifespan for Pine Township alone, and an anticipated $6.2 million in tax revenue over 25 years for Montcalm County as a whole.

“This project is specifically designed with Montcalm County in mind,” Jongewaard said. “There’s been a lot of chatter on Facebook about how wind projects don’t pay taxes. We’re in the process of paying taxes in Isabella County as we speak (where Apex recently completed the Isabella Wind Project). Taxes do get paid. There’s no question – zero – that taxes get paid when you build a wind farm. When you start to look at the cold, hard numbers, it’s kind of hard to argue with some of those realities.”

‘STRICTLY INFORMATIONAL’

Jongewaard and township officials responded to questions from audience members for more than two hours after Jongewaard’s presentation.

Shelley Grube of Pine Township asked if any Pine Township officials have signed leases with Apex.

Millard and Supervisor Bill Drews both said no one on the township board or Planning Commission has signed a lease with Apex that they are aware of.

David Bean of Pine Township asked the township to place a one-year moratorium on taking any wind action, “just to make sure that we have a proper ordinance established.”

“As far as holding off another year on doing anything with it, there are no plans to do anything with it right now,” Millard responded, noting the township already has a wind ordinance in place. “This is strictly informational.”

Lindsey Simon of Pine Township also asked for a one-year moratorium.

“At this time, we are not in the process of changing the wind ordinance,” Millard repeated.

“Please have a moratorium. At least have a year to let us people that are going to be affected get this taken care of,” said Simon with emotion in her voice.

As Millard began to respond, Simon interrupted him: “Tell me why right now that you’re gonna say no. I wanna know why you are going to tell me no.”

“I’m not gonna say no at all,” noted Millard, before he began to attempt to explain the process of how a township board asks a Planning Commission to make changes to an existing ordinance, but Simon interrupted him again.

“You’re giving me a 2012 (ordinance) and then a 2016 (ordinance) and then your website sucks. I get it. It’s country. It’s a country thing. I understand it, but we need to have at least a year to think about everything that’s going on,” Simon declared. “So you tell me right now why that’s not gonna happen. And I also want you to tell me how I can make it happen because I’m gonna do it.”

Jongewaard emphasized that Apex is not currently proposing any turbines for Pine Township and that this is an informational meeting only, but Simon responded that she wants township residents to have the ability to draft an updated wind ordinance in response to Apex.

“On the planning level right now, if the main (township) board will tell us to look into it, we will,” Millard said. “We’ll present options to the main board. We’ll take the existing wind ordinance that we have and we’ll make a change to it (if requested). Those will still be the ground rules, we’ll just add to that.”

“I wanna know that we’re going to have an updated wind ordinance from today and not from 2005 in Huron County,” Simon responded. “I really want a more restrictive one.”

“That’s what we’re trying to find out, I would say,” Millard responded.

After a lengthy public comment session, Jongewaard expressed frustration near the end of the meeting with some of the responses Apex is receiving from those opposed to the wind turbines. He voiced a similar frustration during Monday’s Sidney Township Board meeting.

“Some of the strong response and some of the stuff that I have seen and the ways that people have commented or talked to me or members of our team. It’s like we’re the devil,” Jongewaard declared. “Well, we’re not. We’re trying to be here having a conversation with you and the community as a whole.”

OPEN MEETINGS ACT QUESTION

Early in the meeting, Pine Township Deputy Supervisor Julie Drews, who is the wife of Supervisor Bill Drews, kicked Norm Stephens of Caro out of the Zoom meeting.

Shelley Grube of Pine Township asked if any Pine Township officials have signed leases with Apex.

Millard and Supervisor Bill Drews both said no one on the township board or Planning Commission has signed a lease with Apex that they are aware of.

David Bean of Pine Township asked the township to place a one-year moratorium on taking any wind action, “just to make sure that we have a proper ordinance established.”

“As far as holding off another year on doing anything with it, there are no plans to do anything with it right now,” Millard responded, noting the township already has a wind ordinance in place. “This is strictly informational.”

Lindsey Simon of Pine Township also asked for a one-year moratorium.

“At this time, we are not in the process of changing the wind ordinance,” Millard repeated.

“Please have a moratorium. At least have a year to let us people that are going to be affected get this taken care of,” said Simon with emotion in her voice.

As Millard began to respond, Simon interrupted him: “Tell me why right now that you’re gonna say no. I wanna know why you are going to tell me no.”

“I’m not gonna say no at all,” noted Millard, before he began to attempt to explain the process of how a township board asks a Planning Commission to make changes to an existing ordinance, but Simon interrupted him again.

“You’re giving me a 2012 (ordinance) and then a 2016 (ordinance) and then your website sucks. I get it. It’s country. It’s a country thing. I understand it, but we need to have at least a year to think about everything that’s going on,” Simon declared. “So you tell me right now why that’s not gonna happen. And I also want you to tell me how I can make it happen because I’m gonna do it.”

Jongewaard emphasized that Apex is not currently proposing any turbines for Pine Township and that this is an informational meeting only, but Simon responded that she wants township residents to have the ability to draft an updated wind ordinance in response to Apex.

“On the planning level right now, if the main (township) board will tell us to look into it, we will,” Millard said. “We’ll present options to the main board. We’ll take the existing wind ordinance that we have and we’ll make a change to it (if requested). Those will still be the ground rules, we’ll just add to that.”

“I wanna know that we’re going to have an updated wind ordinance from today and not from 2005 in Huron County,” Simon responded. “I really want a more restrictive one.”

“That’s what we’re trying to find out, I would say,” Millard responded.

After a lengthy public comment session, Jongewaard expressed frustration near the end of the meeting with some of the responses Apex is receiving from those opposed to the wind turbines. He voiced a similar frustration during Monday’s Sidney Township Board meeting.

“Some of the strong response and some of the stuff that I have seen and the ways that people have commented or talked to me or members of our team. It’s like we’re the devil,” Jongewaard declared. “Well, we’re not. We’re trying to be here having a conversation with you and the community as a whole.”

OPEN MEETINGS ACT QUESTION

Early in the meeting, Pine Township Deputy Supervisor Julie Drews, who is the wife of Supervisor Bill Drews, kicked Norm Stephens of Caro out of the Zoom meeting.

Stephens had been posting questions and comments in the Zoom chat function – as were many others. When Julie Drews was questioned by other audience members about why she kicked Stephens out, she said it was because “he was distracting from the content of the meeting and not a Pine Township resident.”

After audience members pointed out that this could be a violation of the Open Meetings Act, Julie Drews asked for Stephens’ email address so she could try to let him back in (Julie told the Daily News after the meeting that she did successfully let Stephens back into the meeting).

Jennifer Dukarski, deputy general counsel for the Michigan Press Association, told the Daily News that reasons for removing someone from a public meeting can be related to causing a disruption, but it would have to be along the line of them hacking the Zoom system and taking over the meeting or screaming over everyone in the room or something significant.

“I cannot imagine that typing in a chat box would be close to rising to that level and the fact that the person was from another location isn’t sufficient either,” Dukarski noted. “Think of it in the context of a public meeting in non-COVID times. This would be the equivalent of someone sitting quietly in the back with a small sign about the size of a sheet of paper. It’s there. It’s clear. It’s not disruptive.

“By removing a participant from a Zoom meeting for contributing in the chat room, the public body isn’t demonstrating the openness and transparency provided for under the Open Meetings Act and may, in fact, be violating the OMA,” Dukarski said. “Although virtual meetings can be challenging and those who Zoom-bombed meetings at the beginning of the pandemic made public bodies concerned about disruption by participants, the general public should still be allowed to freely access and attend public meetings. Making comments in a chat is not the same as disrupting or digitally taking over a meeting. This doesn’t appear to rise to the level of disruption contemplated by the OMA.”

The next regular Pine Township Board meeting is set for 7 p.m. Monday and will likely be held via Zoom.

Pine Township does not have an official website, but the township’s assessor hosts a website for the township at cszservices.com/pine-township.html online.

Source:  By Elisabeth Waldon | Daily News | February 04, 2021 | thedailynews.cc

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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