DOUGLASS TOWNSHIP – The Douglass Township Planning Commission on Wednesday unanimously voted to recommend the Douglass Township Board repeal its recently approved wind energy ordinance.
If the township board votes to repeal at its meeting April 7, it would render moot a planned voter referendum on the ordinance later this year.
Township officials could then begin working on a new ordinance to regulate wind turbines in light of Apex Clean Energy’s efforts to create a wind farm in multiple Montcalm County townships.
Planning Commission Chairman Jack Jeppesen, Vice Chairman Rick Baldwin, Secretary Cindy Shick and commissioners Pat Althoff (who was just recently appointed), Tim Snyder and Todd Wells were all present Wednesday, while Kevin Rush was absent for the second month in a row.
Approximately 90 people attended the meeting via Zoom, including the township’s attorney, Ron Redick of Mike Meyers, who told the Planning Commission that if they want to avoid a voter referendum later this year, they need to recommend that the township board repeal the wind energy ordinance which was created in November 2020. If that ordinance is repealed, the township will revert to its 2017 ordinance, meaning township officials will likely want to update that ordinance to address Apex’s plans for a wind farm.
The township board previously voted to establish a six-month moratorium on wind energy action via a resolution, but Redick recommended on Wednesday that the township board also vote on that moratorium via an ordinance as well in order to cover all their bases. Either way, the moratorium is currently set to expire in mid-August.
‘WE NEED MORE RESTRICTIONS’
Before the Planning Commission voted to recommend that the township board repeal the ordinance, they heard an hour of public comment via Zoom.
“I agree with repealing the ordinance,” township resident Sheila Crooks said. “We need more restrictions, more protections, we need everything to be from our property lines so that we don’t have trespass zoning and we need a moratorium to make sure we can get together on what we’re doing before anything happens here.”
“This decision is going to affect all of us and it’s going to ruin our land,” township resident Brandy Bunting said of wind turbines. “We are asking the Planning Commission and the board to please protect the people who are here, who are asking to be protected. I’m very concerned for the rest of my life.”
“I think you have to take with a thick grain of kosher salt everything Apex says,” township resident and attorney Ron Finegood said. “Apex is dumping more effort and money into this than you can imagine. We need to do what’s best for us as a county and as a township in this particular case. There’s a big ad in the Daily News that Apex is doing $10,000 grants. They (Apex) are clearly trying to buy their way in and seek favorable terms and conditions in the ordinances.”
While the majority of residents want the new ordinance to be more restrictive, some residents warned an ordinance that’s too restrictive could lead to other issues.
“You’re setting up such a restrictive ordinance that at some point we’re going to end up in court over this … when the property owners sue the township for putting in such a restrictive ordinance,” township resident James Almas said. “It seems like we need more in-person meetings and people need to be willing to go to the Apex meetings and ask questions and not just fly off the handle with this. I hope you guys work something out and I hop you include everybody in it when you do.”
Apex Public Engagement Manager Brian O’Shea countered one resident’s claim that foundations for turbines are 50 feet deep – O’Shea said they are only about 10 feet deep. He also responded to some comments saying turbines should only be allowed to be 300 feet tall.
“A height limit of 300 feet would not allow any existing wind farm in the state of Michigan,” O’Shea noted.
“There’s been a couple comments where I wasn’t really sure where things were coming from (tonight), such as the worms (being affected by turbines) and a few other things that kind of strain logic,” he added.
Jon Bailey of Douglass Township called “BS” on O’Shea’s comment about turbine foundations.
“To get rid of all the cement that’s in the ground would be insane to do and they’re not going to attempt to – they’re only going to go down four or five feet at the end of the life cycle of the turbines,” Bailey said.
“None of us want to look at or see the turbines, let’s be honest,” he added.
‘GOOGLE JOSH NOLAN’
Josh Nolan, an attorney hired by the Douglass Township Energy Coalition, was listed on Wednesday’s meeting agenda to give a presentation – something which came as a surprise to the Planning Commission chairman.
“Mr. Nolan was put on the agenda with most of the committee not knowing that he was going to give a presentation tonight,” said Jeppesen, asking Nolan to only speak for 10 minutes as a result.
“I was told 15 minutes so that’s what I prepared for,” Nolan noted.
Nolan then gave a presentation with recommendations for a more restrictive wind ordinance.
“I’m kind of lost for words,” Jeppesen responded when Nolan had finished. “It’s too bad we don’t have someone on the other side of the fence to hear from the other side.”
“What is Josh Nolan, who is he?” Snyder asked. “Is he a concerned citizen? I don’t understand who he is or who he actually works for.”
Nolan responded that he is an attorney hired by the Douglass Township Energy Coalition.
“How does he get his money?” Snyder asked.
“None of that is really any of your concern,” Nolan pointed out. “I don’t see you asking how Brian O’Shea is being paid.”
“I Googled him,” Jeppesen told Snyder. “Basically he’s an anti-wind person.”
“Sir, I’m going to take exception to you referring to me as anti-wind,” Nolan protested.
Jeppesen responded to this by asking for Nolan to be muted on Zoom
“He went to the Isabella County Planning Commission up there,” Jeppesen said of Nolan. “There were some threats made up there to some of the county commissioners. Just Google Josh Nolan and you’ll find out.”
“So basically is he working for the fossil fuel industry?” Snyder asked.
“No, I have Googled him and he doesn’t,” Shick responded. “I think he has been engaged by multiple citizen groups throughout Montcalm County.”
“I have gotten information that some of the guys who signed your guys’ referendum had signed up with Apex,” said Jeppesen, switching to another topic. “I have also heard that some people were coerced or bullied into signing the referendum. A lot of people just signed with them to get them off their porch.”
“I heard people signed with Apex because they were bullied,” Shick responded.
“There’s so many of our citizens out there who are uninformed,” Snyder opined. “I don’t know how to educate everybody. It’s just impossible. I just feel there are a lot of other people in our community who are in the middle and are afraid to say anything.”
Jeppesen said a proposed new wind ordinance for the township as brought forth by Shick is exactly the same as Pierson Township’s restrictive wind ordinance.
“Do you realize what 50 decibels are?” Jeppesen asked (referring to Douglass Township’s wind ordinance that’s in the process of being repealed). “That’s you and I talking right now.
“Everybody says there’s thousands of birds killed (from turbines),” he added. “There’s more killed by house cats.”
When one commissioner pointed out that their job is now to make a new neutral wind ordinance, Shick disagreed.
“Not to make it neutral – to represent our residents,” Shick said. “Me personally, I want it (turbines) no taller than 100 feet. I don’t want to see them above the tree lines.”
“Cindy, you have communication towers in your backyard,” pointed out Jeppesen, who added that he can see red and white flashing lights anytime he goes outside and looks around, but they don’t bother him.
“So do you want 150 more?” Shick asked.
“I won’t be able to see 150 of them,” Jeppesen responded. “Who knows where these turbines are going to be built?”
The next Douglass Township Planning Commission meeting is April 14.
Also during Wednesday’s meeting Planning Commissioners discussed recent Daily News articles about the Carson City-Crystal Area Schools district’s plans for a zero bond millage on this August’s ballot which would make use of wind turbine revenue in a portion of the school district in neighboring Gratiot County – meaning aside from a small increase to Palo residents, most residents in the school district wouldn’t see any changes to their taxes if the bond proposal were to pass. The money generated would go toward capital improvements in the school district.
Commissioners also discussed Stanton resident Don Smucker’s guest column published in last Saturday’s Daily News in which Smucker opined about the importance of wind energy in Montcalm County.
Commissioners also discussed recent articles in the Gratiot County Herald and the Morning Sun which detailed how taxation disputes with Consumers Energy and DTE could cut future revenues of Gratiot County’s five wind farms and could even require the repayment of some taxes already levied there.
The State Tax Commission in 2011 adopted a new tax table which started at 80% of the true cash value and then declined to 30% in the seventh year, which would have resulted in the loss of more than $3.2 million in tax dollars for Gratiot County between 2012 and 2019, according to the Morning Sun. In response to this, Gratiot County and several other counties, along with about 80 townships, intermediate school districts, libraries, individuals and other impacted entities, formed the Michigan Renewable Energy Collaborative (MREC) in 2012 to combine their financial resources in an effort to challenge the change in wind turbine tax collections.
In 2014, the State Tax Commission adopted yet another tax table which remains in effect today, which if applied would have reduced Gratiot County’s tax revenue from 2012 to 2019 by an additional $1.36 million, according to the Morning Sun. After this change, the MREC commissioned Appraisal Economic Inc. to create its own tax multiplier table. In doing so, Appraisal Economic developed a more conservative table using industry best practices and data and all assessors in Gratiot County have chosen to use this new table rather than the State Tax Commission multiplier table.
This disagreement has resulted in massive litigation – 1,109 tax appeal cases have been filed with the Michigan Tax Tribunal by utility companies and private developers regarding wind energy systems throughout Michigan (including Gratiot County), according to the Morning Sun. There are currently 594 wind energy system personal property tax appeals pending at the Tax Tribunal, which have been consolidated by wind parks into 17 separate cases – and only one case has been tried in the Tax Tribunal so far, according to the Morning Sun.
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