DOUGLASS TOWNSHIP – The Douglass Township Board on Wednesday evening unanimously voted to repeal its controversial wind ordinance and also to stop paying for hosting Zoom meetings.
For the next hour and a half, the township board then heard public comments from people concerned about the wind ordinance as well as the upcoming lack of Zoom meetings.
About 40 people attended the meeting in person with another 25 people on Zoom. The Zoom feed was plagued with problems throughout the night – extremely poor audio and visual, as well as attendees repeatedly being kicked off and having to log back in due to apparent problems with the township hall’s internet service.
“Some of us were under the thoughts that we wouldn’t have to do this anymore (Zoom meetings), but (Clerk) Ronda (Snyder) had a lot of comments on Facebook the other day from people worried about COVID so we decided to do it tonight,” Supervisor Terry Anderson said. “We can be done with it now.”
Snyder’s motion to not pay for Zoom meetings anymore passed unanimously.
“So we’re done with that,” Anderson summarized.
Township officials also announced they have a new website (douglasstwp.org).
“Our goal is to eliminate Facebook and just have information on there,” Anderson said.
The Douglass Township Planning Commission is scheduled to meet on April 14 to begin working on a new wind ordinance now that the current ordinance has been repealed.
‘SOMETIMES PROGRESS IS PAINFUL’
As public comment began, Laura Engel read aloud a lengthy letter she and her husband Larry had written in support of wind energy. The Douglass Township couple has signed a wind energy easement agreement with Apex Clean Energy.
“We are starting that right up front, not as an apology, but as what both of us felt was a sensible business move and to reinforce our strong feelings that alternate forms of energy must be employed to take the pressure off non-renewable forms,” Laura said.
The Engels have also installed 16 solar panels mounted on four trackers to assist in lowering their energy bills, as well as to preserve coal, oil, natural gas and other forms of non-renewable energy.
“To this point, we have not involved ourselves in the controversy that has arisen over the wind issue,” Laura said. “However, if we say nothing in defense of a program that has the potential to preserve non-renewable energy resources for future generations and to offer tax advantages to offset the cost of badly needed programs for our schools, our township and Montcalm County, we become a part of the problem, not a part of the solution. We have spent our whole lives in this area and it would be counter-productive for us to speak out in support of anything that would be detrimental to our neighbors or us.”
Laura said Larry grew up on Dickerson Lake and when he was born in 1935, no one lived on the west shore to impede a picturesque view of about 90% of the lake. However, as the years passed, more homes and cottages were built on the west shore until the Engel family could no longer even see the lake from certain windows.
“Carlton and Pauline Engel didn’t complain to the Douglass Township Board about this,” Laura noted. “They chalked it up to progress and made friends with the newcomers. When we speak of someone’s view being impacted in a negative fashion, it really depends on whose ox is being gored, doesn’t it?
“Sometimes progress is painful, as anything new and unfamiliar can be,” she said. “At one time, we would bet railroad tracks, telephone and electric poles and communication towers were viewed in the same fashion. They are all pretty unsightly and certainly add nothing to anyone’s view of the landscape. With time, we have accepted them as part of our world because of the good they do. Who of us would say, ‘I’ll gladly give up my cell phone if we could just get rid of those blasted towers with their ever-blinking red lights?’”
Laura concluded her letter by saying township officials and residents can either be proactive and retain a role in determining where wind turbines will be located, or they can be reactive and fight among themselves, hamper any energy company that ventures into the area and end up doing nothing.
“If the latter happens, look for some faceless bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., who cares nothing about any of us, to dictate how many ‘windmills’ or solar panels we will have in Douglass Township and where they will be located,” she said. “This is not rocket science. It’s just plain good sense and we should be able to solve this issue on our own with no ‘help’ from Washington.”
‘WHERE ARE YOU GETTING YOUR INFORMATION?’
Sidney Township resident Erik Benko, the founder of the Montcalm County Citizens United Facebook page, presented a report he put together about what he sees as the negative financial impact to the area if Apex builds a wind farm.
“I’d like to ask, who’s paying you?” a male township official asked Benko when he had finished speaking (due to the poor video quality of the Zoom meeting, it was often difficult to tell who was speaking).
“I live here,” Benko responded. “Nobody’s paying me.”
“Where are you getting your information? The internet?” the township official pressed.
“Where are you getting your information? Apex Albert?” Benko retorted.
Albert Jongewaard and Brian O’Shea, both of Apex, were present at the meeting and O’Shea disputed Benko’s report which claims that Montcalm County will see a major reduction in tourism if a wind farm is installed. O’Shea noted that according to state of Michigan numbers, tourism is on the rise in Gratiot and Huron counties – both counties with wind farms.
“There’s just no evidence that you would see a 50% decrease in tourism revenue,” O’Shea said. “To suggest otherwise is, I think, a little laughable.”
Jongewaard announced that Apex has begun the process of an economic impact study with the Upjohn Foundation in Kalamazoo.
“We are going to be doing more public outreach efforts,” Jongewaard said. “We’ve been mailing everybody in the community when we have a presentation. We’re doing to be doing something on taxes. Turbines do pay taxes. There’s no question as to whether they pay taxes.
“Believe it or not, I am approachable,” Jongewaard added in response to some of the “Apex Albert” comments made by audience members. “I don’t bite. I don’t get angry.”
O’Shea added that Apex has posted its full video presentation and question and answer log online (montcalmwind.com) from Apex’s Zoom meeting in February (click on “events” and then “virtual public meeting”).
Robert and Kay Scott of Grand Rapids, who also own a house in Sidney Township, both voiced concerns about not only the planned wind farm, but also the township’s plans to stop hosting Zoom meetings.
“Are you willing to offer a Zoom option if your residents will pay for it?” Robert asked. “It seems reasonable. An awful lot of people don’t want to attend in person right now because of COVID.”
“We’ll take that into consideration,” a township official responded.
Julia Potratz, who is a member of the Winfield Township Planning Commission, said the township should be able to get a Zoom subscription for up to 300 people with no time limit for $16 per month.
“We just felt like with the COVID cases that are on the rise, that was a good option for us to allow more participation, along with the 25 person limit in the building,” Potratz said. “That’s an option, it’s not expensive at all.”
(However, during Thursday morning’s Winfield Township Board meeting, township officials there made it sound like Winfield Township doesn’t plan to offer a Zoom option anymore.)
Kay Scott also mentioned tourism which had been discussed earlier.
“When we come to our cottage, we order pizza, we go to all the local businesses, we spend money at Leppinks, we shop at Meijer,” she shared. “We have been in every antique store that has ever been in the Greenville area. We go to barn sales and yard sales. We’re a part of the community, but we’re also tourists in our town town. We represent a lot of other people on all the lakes.
“That goes away very, quickly if we can’t spend time at our cottages because in your township where Derby Road hits Stanton Road and somebody puts up a turbine or turbines there, our enjoyment of the area goes away and our dollars go away,” she said. “We’re not against wind turbines. We’re against the invasion of people’s lives. It’s stealing people’s health, serenity, property values.
“Hey honey, let’s go look for some property in Montcalm County and let’s be sure to find a place where there’s a wind turbine next door – said no one ever,” she concluded.
‘LIKE SORTING FLY POOP OUT OF THE PEPPER’
As public comment continued, a man in the audience asked when there would be a question and answer time between the audience and the township board.
“I don’t know,” Anderson responded. “I’m not going to sit here and let people throw mud at each other.”
“There has to be a Q&A,” the man pressed.
This evolved into an argument between Anderson and the unidentified man, which escalated when the man-made a disparaging remark about Jongewaard.
“We’re not gonna throw mud at Albert. We’re not gonna do a question and answer thing,” Anderson declared, his voice raising. “I’m running the meeting! If you don’t like it, there’s the door! This meeting ain’t going to get out of hand like Maple Valley’s and all that other (expletive). You can mark my word on that.”
Anderson was referring to an April 1 Maple Valley Township Planning Commission meeting which devolved into audience members yelling and arguing with each other without any strong leadership from the Planning Commission, resulting in nothing being accomplished at the meeting.
“If we make this too restrictive, we’re gonna get sued,” Anderson said of the wind ordinance. “It’s like sorting fly poop out of the pepper. There’s two sides to every story. What I don’t want to get into is a yelling thing back and forth, like what happened at Maple Valley the other night. There’s been several of these meetings where it gets out of hand and it ain’t gonna happen here.”
Anderson then asked Patrick Q. Carr to weigh in, as Carr is the chairman of the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners and was present. Carr, a Lakeview-area farmer, has signed a lease with Apex. However, Carr declined to offer any specific guidance to the township board.
“The county doesn’t have a position. We’re not in the game,” Carr said. “The county isn’t a player in the decision-making of this. It all falls on the townships to individually decide what’s best for the townships.”
The meeting adjourned at 8:30 p.m. after an hour and a half of comments from township officials and local residents.
“I’m sorry I got a little bit excited,” said Anderson as the meeting ended.