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Winfield Township officials are taking their time with wind turbine ordinance

WINFIELD TOWNSHIP – Wind turbines weren’t on the agenda but they were the main topic of public comment during Thursday morning’s Winfield Township Board meeting.

Only seven people were present in the audience, including the township’s zoning administrator and this reporter. Of the remaining five people, only two were from Winfield Township. The meeting took place in the morning, which is the township board’s tradition during winter and early spring months, but the board will resume meeting at 7 p.m. on second Thursdays from May until November.

“I’m wondering what the status of the wind ordinance is, who’s working on it, do you have a timeline?” asked Tricia Korhorn of Winfield Township.

“We have no timeline at this particular moment,” Supervisor Phyllis Larson responded. “The plan is as soon as our governor allows us to meet, we plan on meeting at a bigger venue than this so the residents of Winfield Township can attend and we can listen to their comments. It’s important that we listen to what the residents say first.”

Brenda Gartzke of Winfield Township asked whether the township board or Planning Commission would be offering any Zoom meetings in the future, but Larson replied no, as she said it’s no longer required by Michigan.

Ken Purchase of Belvidere Township said his township recently placed a six-month moratorium on wind permits and asked whether the Winfield Township Board would consider doing this.

“I wouldn’t issue a permit because they can’t put it in now because without it being in our zoning book – I’d have to deny it,” Winfield Township Zoning Administrator David Kelsey responded. “It’ll be at least two years, at least, before they even consider it.”

“Our attorney (Jeff Sluggett) said it’s fine for us to take our time and do this,” Larson added. “We will keep you informed when we have a meeting that deals with wind turbines. We could’ve done it sooner and I would have loved to have, but because of our restrictions we can’t do that. We want to hear what you’ve got to say, that’s why we put it off.”

Jessica Kwekel of Cato Township noted that Larson and Winfield Township Planning Commissioner Dale Ulrich have both signed land leases with Apex Clean Energy. Kwekel also read a statement voicing her concerns about how wind turbines might affect wildlife, including endangered species such as sandhill cranes. This promoted Trustee Steve Cole to clarify that sandhill cranes are not an endangered species but indeed are quite the opposite.

“In fact, the DNR is talking about opening up a hunting season on sandhill cranes,” Cole said. “In many states they are a huntable bird of prey. Sandhill cranes are getting extremely abundant.”

Kelsey, who is also the zoning administrator for Belvidere, Cato, Douglass, Home, Maple Valley and Richland townships, then interjected with some opinions about some of the people speaking out against wind turbines.

“Somebody puts out a lot of lies there and they need to quit doing that,” Kelsey declared. “I’m not saying you guys (in the audience) are lying at all, but recently the $160,000 house that only sold for $80,000 – that’s an outright lie.”

Kelsey was referring to a statement made by Marcy Meyers, a Cato Township resident, business owner and real estate broker, who said during Monday’s Cato Township Board meeting that a house surrounded by turbines in Isabella County was assessed for $174,000 but only sold for $80,000 at the end of 2020.

“No, that’s true!” Kwekel responded of what Meyers stated.

“No, somebody went and talked to them and investigated – it was a piece of junk house that was uninhabited and somebody bought it to try to fix it up,” Kelsey said. “Someone would not loan money for a house with a wind turbine, that’s also a lie.”

“She’s a well respected Realtor,” Kwekel declared of Meyers.

“That’s enough,” Larson interjected, ending the back and forth argument.

Trustee John Black, who is also a member of the Winfield Township Planning Commission, then shared some thoughts about why the Planning Commission is taking its time to create a wind ordinance.

“There was a time a year ago that Apex did come to this meeting and told us – of course this was before the knowledge was widespread – they did offer up, we did take a look at (the wind ordinance from) Pine River (Township in Gratiot County),” Black said. “Obviously, we know that’s not restrictive enough and it don’t match to the characteristics of our township. We have a heavily dense populated area up to Indian Lake and close to Amble. We’ve got to craft our own ordinance to reflect that. That’s going to be the Planning Commission’s job to put forth rules to express that.”

“We appreciate that and the township does need to act on its own ordinance, but this is a county issue as well and it’s a very unfortunate one,” Korhorn said from the audience.

The Winfield Township Zoning Board of Appeals will meet on April 20 to consider a request from Apex for a temporary permit to locate a temporary meteorological tower (MET tower) and a sonic detection and ranging (SODAR) unit at 17810 Lake Montcalm Road on property owned by William Roush Jr.; as well as a MET tower at 9400 Amble Road on property owned by Kenneth Rader.

“Just to clarify on those MET towers, all those are are to measure speed, that’s all they are,” Clerk Colleen Stebbins noted. “They gave Dave (Kelsey) the permit for the MET towers, he denied it because there was no setbacks, no height for a tower, nothing like that. That’s why it’s being appealed.

“I’ve watched some of the meetings that’s going on with this wind ordinance,” Stebbins added. “It’s really surprising how many people who are doing the complaining aren’t registered voters. That really amazes me. As clerk, I have the ability to go statewide to see who’s registered to vote and who’s not. There’s about five or six people who’ve been complaining at these meetings who aren’t even registered to vote in the state of Michigan. So be careful, that’s all I’m saying.”

The Winfield Township Board will next meet for a budget meeting on April 15. The Planning Commission will next meet on April 26.

Also during Thursday’s meeting, Larson announced that Dennis Wright, who is the assessor for Winfield Township as well as several other local townships, will retire July 1. The township board voted to start looking to hire a new assessor.