DOUGLASS TOWNSHIP – The kettle has been simmering and bubbling for six months now in Douglass Township.
On Wednesday evening, it finally boiled over.
The Douglass Township Board declined to even vote on the Planning Commission’s unanimous recommendation from last week to extend the township’s current moratorium on wind permits for a year – until August 2022 – or until the township has an ordinance in place), as the current moratorium is scheduled to expire this August. The Planning Commission is working on updating its ordinance to address Apex Clean Energy’s proposal to install 75 commercial wind turbines throughout Montcalm County, but not much progress has been made on the new ordinance at recent Planning Commission meetings.
Immediately after Wednesday’s short township board meeting had adjourned, verbal altercations occurred between township officials and audience members, as well as between township officials themselves.
‘WE THINK SOMEBODY IS BEING COACHED’
As an audience of nearly three dozen people listened during Wednesday’s meeting, Supervisor Terry Anderson accused the “anti-wind people” of being “coached.”
“MSU has some studies on these wind turbines,” Anderson said. “The anti-wind people tore them apart. Sarah Mills from the University of Michigan with a Ph.D., they had no respect for her. Don Smucker had a couple of good articles in the paper (a Guest View opinion column in the Daily News and a Public Forum letter). No respect for him. Laura Engel spoke at one of our meetings, everyone pretty much blew her off. We’re pretty sure that the anti-wind people are being coached. We don’t have a coach.”
“Wow,” various audience members say in response.
Anderson said he doesn’t believe a moratorium extension is necessary.
“All this is gonna do is drag this out,” he said. “We think somebody is being coached that if we drag this out long enough they think Apex is gonna disappear. Personally, I don’t think we need this extra moratorium.
“I’ve been real neutral,” said Anderson (this comment was greeted by disbelieving laughter from audience members), but we’ve been beat up by the anti-wind people. I asked some pro-wind people to come here tonight. I don’t know if they’ll stand up and talk or not because they’ve gotten so much flak. We’ve got a guy over on Stanton Road that his neighbors are threatening.”
Anderson held up several recent issues of the Daily News with stories detailing how Carson City-Crystal Area Schools is placing a zero bond proposal on August’s ballot to make use of wind turbine revenue in Gratiot County.
“If you don’t think the superintendents around here – I’m gonna tell you something, they’re licking their chops,” Anderson said. “If you don’t think they want some of that money – and Montcalm Community College. These are the people that are gonna benefit the most from this, not the farmers and the landowners. The schools and the college and the county are gonna benefit a lot more from this than we are. The only reasons these superintendents and these schools aren’t saying anything right now is because they don’t want a black eye. But you can bet their butt they’re waiting for that money.
“I think by extending this moratorium, that’s pushing toward the end of keeping them (Apex) out of here completely,” he said. “There’s no way we need a year and a half. You know the people on that (Planning Commission) committee and they’re all good people. There’s anti-wind people on that committee and there’s a couple pro-wind people on that committee. You’ve gotta give them some time to work on this thing.”
“When you have an hour and a half of public comment, you get nothing done,” Trustee Tom Jeppesen added, referring to recent Planning Commission meetings. “It’s pointless.”
Trustee Pat Althoff – who is on the Planning Commission and voted last week to recommend the moratorium extension to the township board – said the Planning Commission should continue to work on the ordinance a few more months before the moratorium is extended.
Treasurer Amy Laper said she thinks if the moratorium gets extended, the Planning Commission will go back to only meeting once a quarter to work on a new wind ordinance. Clerk Ronda Snyder said she agreed with everything her fellow board members said.
Planning Commissioner Cindy Shick, who was previously asked by Anderson to lead the way for the Planning Commission in creating a new wind ordinance, interjected from the audience.
“No one on that board said we were going quarterly,” Shick said. “No one changed what our meeting schedule would be.”
“Terry, you said ‘give the Planning Commission half a chance, listen to them,’” added resident Christa Baldwin from the audience. “They voted unanimously and now you’re turning down what they passed.”
Douglass Township Zoning Administrator David Kelsey, who is also the zoning administrator for Belvidere, Cato, Home, Maple Valley, Richland and Winfield townships, interjected from the audience that he spoke with Pine River Township officials in Gratiot County about allegations of turbines decreasing property values.
“You hear a lot of lies out there,” said Kelsey, referring to the anti-wind people. “There is no record of any property value going down in Pine River Township. If the property value went down, it may have been because it was a piece of junk house, but it wasn’t because of the wind turbines.”
“Gratiot County is putting 140 more turbines in, I heard, so if they’re so bad why are they putting more in?” Jeppesen added.
Laper then asked to make a statement.
“We listen to public comment and when there’s people in here that are for wind, people snicker and make comments and I think that’s really rude,” the treasurer said to the audience. “It just seems like there’s a lot of people who are disrespecting what we’re doing. To snicker and stuff when other people talk because you don’t believe in what they’re saying is wrong. I don’t know what world you grew up in, but that’s not the world I grew up in right here in Douglass Township.
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” Laper declared, pointing to someone in the audience who was disagreeing with her as she spoke.
“That’s not the way I was raised,” Jeppesen declared loudly, backing up Laper. “I’m really sad about your parents because they did a poor job of raising you.”
Baldwin began to respond to this from the audience, but township officials cut her off.
“That’s enough,” Anderson said. “You want me to have him haul you outta here?”
Anderson was referring to Montcalm County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Kotenko, who was standing by the door. Wednesday marked the fourth meeting in a row that law enforcement officials have been present at Douglass Township meetings, and the second meeting in a row that township officials have threatened to have audience members forcibly removed by law enforcement officials (Montcalm County Sheriff Mike Williams told the Daily News that his office has been providing officers at township meetings “in the role of peacekeeping” at the request of Anderson).
Rodney Nutt of Montcalm Township stood up in the audience and called for a point of order, but township officials yelled for him to sit down.
“You have a member of your board attacking people in the audience,” Nutt pointed out. “And you have another member up there saying ‘don’t behave badly.’”
Nutt raised his hands into the air in exasperation as he made his point.
After declining to take action on the moratorium extension, the township board then adjourned the meeting.
‘YOU THREW ME UNDER THE BUS’
Immediately after the meeting had adjourned, Shick walked up from the audience to speak with Anderson; however, it was Jeppesen who rose to meet her and things escalated quickly. (See this reporter’s Twitter account for a video clip of the altercation: @elisabethwaldon.)
“So I’m anti-wind?” Shick asked Anderson.
“You’re anti-wind,” Anderson responded.
“No, I’m not,” Shick protested.
“Who did you talk to about the wind?” Jeppesen interjected to Shick. “What ordinance, where did you get that ordinance from?”
“You know where I got it? I sat at my desk and did it,” Shick responded.
“You got it from Pierson (Township),” Jeppesen declared.
“No one coached me. I was asked to do it for free,” Shick emphasized.
“You copied the same thing as Pierson,” Jeppesen reiterated.
“I used their ordinance, but I changed it. I had a stack of eight ordinances,” Shick said.
Shick then turned to face Anderson.
“And I am personally offended, Terry Anderson, I am so offended,” Shick said, her raised voice brimming with anger and tears.
“You asked her to, Terry, you asked her to do it,” declared Shick’s husband Harvey who had walked up to stand next to his wife.
“I asked you to do the ordinance,” Anderson responded. “I didn’t ask you to stretch it out for …”
“And then you threw me under the bus,” Shick declared. “I am working, it is the pro-wind people who are stretching it out.”
At this point, Kelsey waved for the sheriff’s deputy to come over. Shick was too upset to speak any further and she and her husband turned and walked out. On her way out, Shick walked past and briefly made a comment to Albert Jongewaard, the senior development manager for Apex.
Audience members who had been standing and watching the verbal altercation, recording portions of it on their phones, now interjected with multiple comments.
“Talk about smirks, I see one up there,” one woman noted.
“You guys just showed your cards,” another woman said. “We know exactly where you are now.”
“Unleash the Kraken!” a woman declared, using a version of a common catchphrase to signal unfounded conspiracy theories.
“We didn’t do anything except cut off their year and a half,” Anderson responded. “If they (the Planning Commission) can’t get it done, now they’ve gotta start taking us serious.”
As Snyder the clerk began to pack up electronic equipment from offering the meeting on Zoom, some audience members then confronted her. In response, Snyder said her husband, Tim Snyder who is on the Planning Commission, has been receiving threatening phone calls. Snyder said people are afraid to speak up in support of wind turbines over fear of retaliation.
“We’re accused of being coached, which is a total lie,” Sheila Crooks told Snyder.
“The only ones being coached are those up there,” Baldwin added, pointing to where the township board sits.
Snyder tried to explain the township board’s reasoning for declining to vote on the moratorium extension.
“It gets dragged out and we have to keep going through his hell every single week,” she declared. “You guys just want to argue. You don’t want to hear how people really feel.”
A man interjected to ask Snyder how she really feels.
“How do I feel?” she asked. “What about the farmers that do want it? What about the citizens who said yeah, we need it for clean energy? What about those people? Who’s speaking up for those people? They’re too afraid to speak up because of retaliation. That’s not fair.”
The debate between audience members and township officials continued for some time until Snyder turned off the lights in the township hall and walked out, at which point everyone else slowly began making their way outside to the parking lot.
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