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Pierson Township Board to leave Planning Commission seat empty until after wind ordinance is finalized

PIERSON TOWNSHIP – The Pierson Township Board has a vacancy on its Planning Commission and they are leaving it that way until after the township’s wind ordinance is finalized.

During Tuesday’s township board meeting, Supervisor Dan Buyze reported that Janet Moore, who is a current member of the township’s Parks & Rec Board, has expressed an interest in filling a vacancy on the Planning Commission, which was created with the resignation of Dave Johnson, who hasn’t attended a Planning Commission meeting since last October.

“We know her qualifications and the work that she did with parks and rec,” Buyze said of Moore. “However, we do have a process and we should go through that process. She approached us before the wind controversy, so we can simply vote her in, or we can open it to the public, but I would not want to do that until the present makeup of the committee finishes their work on the (wind) ordinance. The last thing I want to do is open up a position where we’re going to get a bunch of ambulance chasers that either go pro or con like what we saw at the last Planning Committee Zoom meeting.”

“I’m OK with Janet taking it,” Clerk Sarah Burkholder responded.

“I think Janet’s very qualified for the position. She’s very good,” Trustee Bill Grice said. “I have kind of mixed feelings though – we did make a policy that we’re going to post for it. Seeing as how we made the policy, we should probably follow the policy.”

Trustee Jason Bergman and Treasurer Kathy Hyrns both agreed with Grice.

Burkholder made a motion to appoint Moore to the Planning Commission.

“We have had an empty seat on that board so another mind on this very important topic might be a benefit,” Burkholder noted. “I do think it wouldn’t be a terrible thing to accept her to the committee and use another very swift, strong mind to help make this very important document what the community desires. She has a lot to bring to the table, she’s been at Planning Commission meetings well before wind came to the table.”

The motion failed 1-4 with only Burkholder voting “yes,” meaning the Planning Commission vacancy will remain until after the township’s wind ordinance is finalized.

“My gut tells me that because we have struggled with getting qualified candidates on that committee, after the wind ordinance is done, we’ll see how many people really raise their hands,” Buyze noted.

The Planning Commission is currently comprised of Grice, Chairman Jim Ward and members Donna Ericksen, Tyler Lecceadone and Zoning Administrator Orvin Moore.

The Planning Commission on April 15 recommended the township board make some changes to the township’s wind ordinance, including changing commercial turbine setback requirements from four times a turbine’s height to three times the height from non-participating properties, as well as two times the height from a roadway. The Planning Commission will have a public hearing on the proposed changes at 7 p.m. June 3 at the township hall.

PUBLIC COMMENT ABOUT WIND ENERGY

During public comment Tuesday, Steven Poulsen of Maple Valley Township, who also owns property in Pierson Township, warned township officials about their upcoming wind ordinance public hearing.

“I know it’s an open meeting, but I’ve been to Maple Valley Township (Planning Commission meetings) and they get quite a few outside the township that come in there and are very disrespectful and just raising a ruckus,” Poulsen said. “Before, when they had Zoom meetings, there was a lot of them that were from out of the county, out of the state even. I know it’s a hot button issue. I know from reading the Daily News there’s been another township (Douglass Township) that even had a county cop (sheriff’s deputy) there to try to keep order when things almost get out of hand. I can’t imagine some of you going to other townships and weighing in and trying to tell them how to run their meetings. I just know from Maple Valley Township, they get in there and make quite a ruckus and try to intimidate people and stuff like that.”

Duane Weed of Pierson Township then spoke up against wind turbines.

“I, for one, am against the wind,” Weed said. “I don’t want to see turbines in Montcalm County – period. You don’t put landfills in everybody’s backyard. You’ve got one (in Pierson Township), but it’s been here. It’s like taking that and multiplying it 100 times across the county. We live here because of the beauty. I don’t want to have it in my backyard. If you put something 700-foot in the air, you don’t have control over it. I do not want to see it and I’ll do everything in my power to make it vocal, online and everywhere else to make sure that we can stop this. I understand that the farmers are also residents of this community, but it’s the few making it hard for the many.”

Brian O’Shea, the public engagement manager for Apex Clean Energy, was also present Tuesday and introduced himself to the township board. O’Shea noted that Apex is hosting a virtual public meeting on May 25 to discuss wind turbine design goals, setbacks and shadow flicker (visit www.montcalmwind.com/publicmeeting for more information). He added that the virtual meeting will be a kick-off to a series of in-person open house “listening sessions” Apex will host in townships throughout Montcalm County.

“We’ll provide some public comment at the public hearing on June 3 as well,” O’Shea said.

SEWER SYSTEM UPDATE

Also on Tuesday, the township board voted 5-0 to obtain a new insurance policy for the Big Whitefish Lake and Little Whitefish Lake sewer systems.

The township, which recently took over the lake sewer systems from the Montcalm County Drain Commission, currently remains on Montcalm County’s independent policy at an annual cost of $7,192.

Buyze said if the township switches to its own writer through the township’s own insurance group, Kalamazoo-based Burnham & Flower, the annual cost to the township would be $953 – a savings of $6,239.

“That’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?” Grice said.

“That’s pretty significant because currently right now that is coming out of the budget for both lakes,” Buyze agreed.

Pierson Township officials also discussed how a recent audit of Montcalm County Drain Commission records showed $817,000 was misallocated in lake and sewer funds over the past decade.

“There was a lot of money misappropriated from the Drain Commission,” Buyze said. “They had made one sewer district, which would be Sidney sewer district, whole with the amount of interest (this is not final yet, the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners will vote on Monday regarding a recommendation to the full board to write a check for $136,389 to the Sidney Township sewer fund). We have a substantial amount of money that is still owed to the Big and Little Whitefish lake sewer funds for O&M, operation and maintenance. The county is performing an audit on those funds to check on the accuracy of those balances. Sometime in June we hope to have those results and spending on what the results are, we’ll take appropriate steps from there.

“As we turn over more stones in the transition of the sewer management of both lakes to the township, I think we are getting more and more comfortable that we have done the right thing, that we’re now in charge of our own destiny, because how did $800,000-some dollars get misappropriated?” Buyze asked.

“That was the question, how did the money get misallocated?” Grice agreed. “Some of the county commissioners brought that up and every one of them answered, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know.’”

“They said it didn’t happen by their hand,” Burkholder said. “They were using pooled “We still scratch our heads as to the disparity in funds (in the Big and Little Whitefish lake sewer accounts),” Buyze said. “We’ll wait for the audit results and go from there, that’s about all we can do.”

Pierson Township Zoning Administrator Orvin Moore then weighed in from the audience.

“The one thing that struck me with that whole meeting (of the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners on May 10), the question was asked … ‘who was at fault?’ That was asked by a commissioner and that commissioner (Patrick Q. Carr) happened to be the chair of the commission at the time of that sewer, when all of that was going on,” Moore said. “The buck stops there, first of all. The Board of Commissioners was responsible for that budget even though the drain commissioner supposedly had control of it. The second thing was the controller (Brenda Taeter) made the comment that they will never find out where all that money went or how it was spent without a forensic audit, which I thought was kind of interesting. She was pretty explicit that they weren’t going to do one unless somebody forced her.”

“We may have that opportunity depending on the findings,” Buyze noted.

“We do not have our county commissioner here – again,” Buyze added, referring to Montcalm County District 8 Commissioner Brandon Stowell of Trufant, who represents Pierson Township.

Stowell has not attended a Pierson Township Board meeting since February. He also was absent from the May 10 meeting of the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners.