PINE TOWNSHIP – The crack of guns on the shooting range could be heard on the Flat River Conservation Club property Monday evening. Meanwhile, inside the clubhouse, questions and comments were flying nearly as fast and furious as the bullets.
The Pine Township Planning Commission met at 5 p.m. drawing a passionate audience of more than 50 people, followed by the Pine Township Board meeting at 7 p.m., which saw only slightly less attendance.
By the end of four-hour-plus meetings, both the Planning Commission and the township board had unanimously voted to place a six-month moratorium on any wind permit action. In the meantime, the township will send out a survey to all landowners and taxpayers in the township (including people who have secondary residences on township lakes) asking for their feedback about the township’s wind zoning ordinance.
The township’s ordinance does address wind turbines but it hasn’t been updated since 2016 (find the ordinance at cszservices.com/pine-township.html). As a result, township residents have been asking the township board for months to update the ordinance to address the 600-foot turbines that Apex Clean Energy is proposing placing throughout Montcalm County.
SURVEY VS. UPDATING ORDINANCE
The survey being mailed out will ask a series of questions about wind, which will then be reviewed by six people – two township board members, two Planning Commission members and two township residents (all yet to be determined).
“We’re trying to put this together to see where the residents of the township are at right now,” Planning Commission Chairman Scott Millard summarized. “We have good turnout here tonight, amazing turnout, and I thank you all for coming. But there’s a whole lot of people who live in this township. This is a lot of people from the township, but there’s a lot of people we haven’t heard from too.”
Many audience members didn’t think a survey was necessary and simply wanted the township to update its already existing wind ordinance because it hasn’t been updated for five years. Millard admitted the current ordinance wasn’t written with 600-foot turbines in mind, but he voiced concern that if the ordinance is too restrictive, the township will end up being sued.
“Sidney (Township) put one in that, they want what, like 3,000 feet from the property line? You can’t do that,” Millard said.
“Yes, you can,” multiple audience members declared.
“How can you do that?” Millard repeated. “It doesn’t serve the township any good to be in court over something like that. If you write an ordinance too strict that there isn’t a spot in this township for a ‘windmill,’ we’ll just wind up in court over it.”
Attendees reiterated that they don’t want 600-foot turbines in the community and that the township needs to update its ordinance.
“The one that we’ve got right now doesn’t work for any of us,” Curt Simon of Pine Township said. “Look at all the people here. Give us a chance, we’ll do anything we can to help you out. You need to revisit it.”
“We want to do it right so we don’t wind up doing things over and over,” Millard responded.
“Would you like one (a turbine) on your property?” a woman in the audience asked.
“If I had the right piece of property for it, I probably wouldn’t have a problem,” Millard answered. “I think there’s the right piece of property somewhere in the township for anything, whether it be a trailer park or a windmill.”
“How about a strip club?” a man in the audience responded sarcastically.
Shelley Grube of Pine Township noted that while township officials are concerned about being sued, she and other residents have access to multiple restrictive wind ordinances that have already held up in court.
“Our current ordinance allows them (turbines) to be placed 20 feet from the height of a turbine from a non-participating property owner’s land,” Grube said. “Our decibel level is at 55 when a normal country rural setting is at 20 at night. Why would we allow that to our residents? What we’re asking you to do is to put in a restrictive wind ordinance to keep the health and the safety and the welfare of our property owners and the residents hear the way that it is. Then you can have Apex or the developer go and try to explain to the residents and the property owners why we need to have lower setbacks, why we need to have higher sound and why they should be able to trespass on our property. And then they (the wind developers) can bring it to a vote if they think they can get enough signatures to do that.”
This statement brought forth applause from audience members.
Tyler Treiweiler of Pine Township repeatedly interjected questions and statements to the board – including concerns about the effects of turbines on the township’s natural resources and beauty – leading Millard to voice frustration with him for interrupting and not identifying himself (however, the Planning Commission didn’t ask any other audience members to identify themselves when speaking).
“You guys keep ignoring major parts of questions,” Treiweiler protested.
“Well, we’re going to start ignoring you,” Millard responded.
As audience members continued to request a restrictive ordinance, Millard declared, “You can’t just make up rules.”
“Yes, you can,” multiple attendees said in unison. “That’s your job.”
After much more discussion, the Planning Commission unanimously voted to send out a wind survey and to then revisit the current ordinance based on survey results, with Millard, Secretary Rosemary Witt and commissioners Bob Behrenwald, Chris Bell, Gary Christensen, Steve Fisk and Tyler Nadeau all voting yes.
“We’ve never gone through something like this on the board,” Millard noted. “The closest I’ve come is trailer parks. That was a heated discussion, but nothing like this is.”
RESCIND VS. MORATORIUM
The discussion then turned toward whether to place a moratorium on the township issuing any wind permits while survey results are pending.
“We are not prepared to submit an application in the next four months or the next six months or probably even into next year,” noted Albert Jongewaard, senior development manager for Apex. “There’s a lot of work that goes into a wind farm. So this isn’t going to be a surprise to anyone, this is going to be a public process.”
“The billboards are up! We know you’re coming!” Treiweiler interjected.
“I’m happy to see the billboards because it does announce that we’re here interested in building a project,” Jongewaard responded. “That’s why I’m here right now speaking in front of a room of people. We’re out here working with the community. We’re signing leases because we have a legal right to do so and folks who own property have a legal right if they so choose to participate in a wind project.”
Treiweiler repeatedly questioned who has the final say over the wind ordinance – the township board or the Planning Commission.
“I’m all done talking to you,” Millard responded. “You don’t pay any attention. You don’t raise your hand.”
“I raised my hand! I raised my hand! I have been paying attention this entire time,” Treiweiler declared.
Audience members and township officials then began arguing with each other, escalating the conversation.
Nadeau then made a motion to rescind the township’s wind ordinance effective immediately which resulted in loud applause and cheers from the audience. However, some audience members then pointed out that this would leave the township without any sort of wind ordinance.
Nadeau then wanted to rescind his motion, but Millard said they still needed to vote. The Planning Commission unanimously voted down the motion to rescind, meaning it failed and the township still has its current ordinance.
Nadeau then made a motion to recommend the township board approve a six-month moratorium on issuing any wind permits. The Planning Commission unanimously approved the recommendation, which the township board unanimously approved later that evening.
“It’s been oftentimes referred to as a moratorium … but our adviser at the Michigan Township Association said it’s not truly a moratorium, it’s a pause in permitting,” Supervisor Bill Drews said. “On a personal note, we heard (from Apex) that there will probably be no permitting even applied for maybe up to a year. It could be a moot point, but I accept the idea that we will have a pause in permitting.”