CATO TOWNSHIP – The Cato Township Planning Commission met on Wednesday evening for the first in a series of special meetings to review its wind ordinance, which hasn’t been updated since 2015.
Chairman Phil Morrow, Secretary Kim Carr and planners David Behrenwald, Brandi Clark-Hubbard, David Kelsey and Quanah Striker were all present (it was the first meeting for Clark-Hubbard and Striker, both of whom were recently appointed to the Planning Commission).
About three dozen residents were also in attendance, although about half of them left after public comment had concluded and planners began the lengthy project of updating the ordinance.
Updates are being made to the ordinance in response to Apex Clean Energy’s proposed wind turbine project (an estimated 75 turbines throughout multiple townships in Montcalm County). A wind permit moratorium is currently in place in Cato Township from mid-April to mid-October.
David Lund, a former Lakeview Village Council president and councilman, kicked off public comment from the audience with a question for Planning Commission members: “If any of you stand to potentially financially gain from this wind turbine project, have you thought of the possible consideration of conflict of interest and recusing yourself from making any determination on the topic?”
Planners did not respond to this question.
Marcy Meyers, a Cato Township resident, business owner and real estate broker, held up a photo she took of a house with wind turbines nearby.
“If I were to list this house today with the turbines surrounding it, I would put it at about $185,000,” Meyers said. “If these turbines were not around this beautiful home – it’s probably only a couple years old – this home is worth $300,000. This industrial project is going to hurt our real estate values. Obviously the closer you are to them, the more money you’re gonna lose, but you could be up to a mile or five miles away and you’re gonna lose equity. We work hard for our equity and our houses are our biggest investment to most everybody here.”
Charlie Curtis owns property in Cato Township but resides in Kent County.
“When I bought property up here, I had no thought of a windmill,” Curtis said. “Now all we can think about is windmills and what they’re gonna do to our property and what effect they have on us and the neighborhood and the community. What I call industrializing our township with monstrous wind energy machines is really nothing less than an attack on our townships and its way of life. It’s being done by million-dollar, trillion-dollar industries. This is a fight that we’re really not qualified to have with these kinds of money interests and corporate entities.
“To me, it’s kind of like an NFL football team lining up against sixth-graders. It’s so out of proportion to what we’re capable of really understanding without spending tons of money on research that oftentimes we don’t even understand at this point,” he said. “And you can bet that long before this assault took place, it began in the minds of corporate entities that we know nothing about that were strategizing about how to take over our land for their profit. They have Harvard-educated marking people that are putting together strategies to talk us into things that we don’t even want to be talked into but are susceptible to from smooth marketing and surface arguments and things like that because we don’t know enough about it.”
Some residents seemed to be under the impression that wind developers might physically trespass or build on non-participating properties.
“As far as I’m concerned, this is government control,” Deanna Sweet of Cato Township said. “I would love to be able to make up my own mind about what’s going onto my land. If any of you came on my property right now, I would say you’re trespassing, and that’s how I feel about the windmill people coming onto my land. It is my land, I pay the taxes, we farm it and I really don’t want these guys walking on my land and taking control of it. I think it’s a bunch of bull.”
Albert Jongewaard, the senior development manager for Apex, corrected this statement.
“We completely believe in private property rights and I agree that people ought to be able to do what they choose to do with their property,” Jongewaard said. “We don’t have eminent domain rights, so if somebody doesn’t sign a lease, we can’t touch your property.
“The reason we’re here to begin with is because the state of Michigan is shutting down its coal plants and we’re shutting down our nuke facilities and that’s a reality that’s taking place every day,” Jongewaard added. “So at some level the state’s gotta figure out how is it going to replace that lost power, how are we going to be able to generate electricity when we shut down the ways that we’ve produced power since the 1940s? It’s happening in every state across the country. There is a transition, it’s new, but there are a lot of safeguards in place to make sure that if people don’t want to participate in the project, we don’t touch your property. If people decide that they don’t want to participate, then we don’t have a project. But folks ought to have the right to choose for themselves, that’s the position that we take.”
WIND ORDINANCE REVIEW
As planners began the lengthy process of reviewing and updating the township’s wind ordinance, Morrow asked one of the big questions on everyone’s minds.
“Do we want to limit the height of an LWT (large wind turbine)?” he asked.
“Yes!” multiple audience members declared in response.
“This is not your discussion,” Morrow told audience members. “I’m going to ask you to be quiet. This is our discussion and our time. You’ll have your time, this is our time.”
Behrenwald suggested a height limit of 500 or 550 feet, which Morrow clarified would be from the tip of the turbine blade. Clark-Hubbard said she would prefer a 500-foot limit.
“Is there some consideration with the less height, the more towers?” Carr asked. “What I hear is people don’t want to be saturated with towers. Is it one or the other? Is that something to consider? I keep hearing the proposal is 600 (foot tall turbines) and a setback of 1,300 (feet). I’ve heard, ‘I don’t want to look out and see three towers.’”
“My comeback to that comment would be is if we make them 500 (feet high maximum), you could make it (the setback) two and a half times the height instead of doing two for the 600 (feet),” Behrenwald said. “You could just make the setback further. That would take care of that issue.”
“You’re going from 120 to 500 (feet)? That’s quite a leap,” Jeremy Kwekel of Cato Township interjected from the audience, referring to the proposed height limits for a small turbine and a large turbine.
Morrow also proposed adding the “supervisory control data acquisition” language (SCADA) to the ordinance, which is a computer system that monitors the control of a wind energy system’s units and data regarding items such as shadow flicker and ice on turbine blades.
“I do believe the large turbines need to have that technology in our ordinance,” Morrow said.
Clark-Hubbard also proposed adding aircraft detection lighting system (ADLS) language to the ordinance so blinking red lights on turbines can possibly be turned off or reduced during nighttime hours. Wind energy developers have to request permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to be allowed to use ADLS.
The Planning Commission plans to discuss noise limits at their next wind ordinance meeting, as well as how to define noise, as noise is not specifically defined in the current ordinance.
Before Wednesday’s meeting began, Jongewaard distributed maps to the Planning Commission showing theoretical turbine locations in Cato Township based on a variety of setbacks. Morrow said the Apex maps will be made available to residents.
“It does not include (the village of) Lakeview,” Jongewaard noted of Apex’s plans. “A good portion of the (Cato) township is actually not even in the potential project area.”
“Can you explain why you’re not building in Lakeview?” Kwekel asked from the audience. “Is it because of liability?”
“It’s the airport,” Jongewaard responded, referring to Griffith Field Airport, which is owned by the village of Lakeview.
“Good discussion people, really good discussion,” Morrow summarized as Wednesday’s meeting adjourned. “We made some good headway. We’re looking at the ordinance, we’re tearing it apart, we’re going to redo some things. I think you’re going to see that we’re listening to you.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding