DOUGLASS TOWNSHIP – After taking care of monthly township business Wednesday evening – which only took three minutes – the Douglass Township Board then heard more than an hour of public comment on the topic of wind turbines.
The Douglass Township Planning Commission on May 20 voted 4-2 to send a so-called “Citizens Ordinance” to a public hearing on July 28, to be followed by a regular Planning Commission meeting at which commissioners may decide whether to recommend the restrictive wind turbine ordinance to the Douglass Township Board.
Sheila Crooks of Douglass Township brought up the Citizens Ordinance during public comment Wednesday, speaking to Douglass Township Board Supervisor Terry Anderson directly as an audience of more than 30 people listened.
“Mr. Supervisor, you told us there are good people on the Planning Commission and if we give them a chance, they will come up with a good ordinance – and they have done that,” Crooks said. “I challenge the board to take a step back, to pass the ordinance referred to as the Citizens Ordinance, allow pro-wind supporters to petition it if they choose, and then we will vote. I believe a vote would go a long way to heal this community. Please, let’s stop the madness and take a vote. Everybody wants to vote, that’s what I hear overwhelmingly, so let’s vote on the ordinance and see where it goes.”
“Right now the ordinance is in the hands of our attorney (Mika Meyers) and we’re gonna do what we directs us to do,” Anderson responded.
“The problem with that is you’re supposed to direct your attorney,” Crooks countered.
“We’re not gonna do anything that our attorney says is not right,” Anderson repeated. “We’re gonna take the direction of our attorney. We’re gonna take his advice and that’s where it’s gonna go.”
The topic came up again later in the meeting when Melissa Bannen of Douglass Township also asked the township board to take the issue to a ballot vote.
“We’re gonna take the advice of our attorney,” Anderson reiterated. “This township will not end up in court for being sued – will not. We’re gonna wait and see what happens in Sidney (Township), that’s gonna be interesting. We’re gonna take the advice of our attorney. Granted, we have the last say, but we’re gonna take his advice. We will not be in court.”
Linda Reynolds of Douglass Township then gave a passionate statement about her disappointment in township officials.
“I have lost so much trust in the board,” she said. “We were thanking you for taking the time and learning what you needed to learn and putting faith in the Planning Commission. Then I see at the last board meeting (May 5), one of the Planning Commission members (Cindy Shick) get verbally attacked by the two of you (Anderson and Trustee Tom Jeppesen). And I thought, you know what? I’m glad we are paying for the cops that you brought in because you guys have the hottest tempers and I’m scared. I saw two of you go after a little bit of a lady, verbally attacking her, and you put her in charge of writing a good ordinance.”
IN SUPPORT OF WIND
Laura Engel of Douglass Township, who along with her husband Larry has signed a property agreement with Apex Clean Energy, was the first to speak during public comment Wednesday (she was also listed on the agenda as a featured speaker).
“The chance of a wind turbine being erected on our land is quite remote,” Laura said. “The reasons are twofold – one, we are in very close proximity to both Clifford and Dickerson lakes and two, eagles have nested on the east end of Dickerson Lake for many years and Apex does not want to disturb their habitat. In spite of that, our neighbors at Clifford and Dickerson seem to be thoroughly imbued with the notion that we have been plotting nonstop with Apex to line our property with turbines, the malevolent aim of which is to locate them as close as possible to both lakes.
“When someone calls my husband on the phone – and this really did happen too – and informs him that he does not want to look out the window and see a turbine in our field, my husband listens politely,” Laura said. “However, we regard a statement like this more as wishful thinking or even a veiled threat. People with a more measured view of turbines have either visited in Gratiot and Isabella counties or have made phone calls to ascertain levels of discontent with turbines. Truthfully we know some will be discontented because it is in their nature to be discontented. I give credit to (Montcalm County) Citizens United (a Facebook-based group) for rooting out this miscreants and getting them on record.
“By and large however, most everyone in both counties has a neutral or positive view of the turbines,” Laura said. “Cited most often is financial benefit to the schools and other entities. Property values have not decreased in spite of rumors to the contrary. We have listed to the old bromides about how it is the responsibility of Terry Anderson and his board to keep us safe and healthy. One would think Apex had proposed a toxic waste dump for Douglass Township. Reliable science does not identify health issues caused by turbines. The keep us safe and healthy slogan provides a handy smokescreen for what this brouhaha is really about – which is don’t screw around with my view.”
Mike Hankard of Hankard Environmental in Verona, Wisconsin, has been studying noise (including turbine noise) for the past 30 years. Hankard, who attended Wednesday’s meeting alongside Apex Senior Development Manager Albert Jongewaard, said he looked at the proposed Citizens Ordinance, which he said is basically the same as Pierson Township’s ordinance.
“On behalf of Apex, I reviewed that Pierson Township ordinance and it is a prohibitive ordinance,” Hankard said. “If you want to have no wind in your community, if you enact the Pierson ordinance as it is, that’s what you’er going to get. There’s three numbers in there that make it impossible to develop (a wind project).”
Jongewaard held up a flier mailed out by Montcalm County Citizens United, which he said was filled with “blatant misinformation,” such as the claim that Apex is working to place turbines “only 600 feet away from our homes!” according to the mailer.
“That is a lie,” Jongewaard said. “We are not talking about doing that ever. We’ve never once said that.”
MIDLAND COUNTY PERSPECTIVE
David Stevens of Midland County’s Mount Haley Township said an acquaintance of his in the Montcalm County area asked him to attend Wednesday’s meeting. Stevens says he lives in the middle of the Meridian wind farm with 11 turbines within one mile of his house.
“I’m here today because I would like to see your community avoid the devastating effects of wind farm development,” said Stevens who became emotional as he spoke. He read a lengthy statement, portions of which he had also previously emailed the Daily News.
“Since 2012, I have lost my church, the three nearest party stores, the nearest grocery store, the three nearest hardware stores, the local golf course and small-town newspaper,” Stevens wrote to the Daily News. “These losses occurred before COVID. The loses are spread widely; Huron, Sanilac, Tuscola and Gratiot counties have experienced the largest depopulation in the southern Lower Peninsula over the past 10 years; around 5%. All four counties lead the state in hosting turbines.
“Only two new homes have been built in Breckenridge since 2012. Zero new homes have been built in Mt. Haley, Jonesfield, Porter Township’s wind farm footprint since plans were revealed three years ago. Even worse, the median home value in Wheeler Township (Breckenridge) is about $60,000 lower than nearby townships without turbines (Hemlock and Ovid). Also Wheeler Township has 25% rental property and 11% vacant homes, very high. This is because houses are difficult to sell in Wheeler. I have seen houses sell at a 75% discount near turbines.
“But the greatest loss is the community and the sense of a better future,” Stevens wrote. “The community-wide hard feelings are thick enough to cut with a chainsaw. I have former friends and relatives I will never speak to again. No one will volunteer for town, school or church events because they wish to avoid uncomfortable interactions. If you ask township officials, they will say everything is great. They don’t want to admit they burned down the town with their greed and ignorance and corruption.”
Jongewaard said he sympathized with Stevens’ sentiments, but he also noted that what Stevens described was the reality of many rural communities throughout America today. Jongewaard noted that people are buying property and building homes on properties in Isabella County, where Apex recently completed a wind turbine project. He added that school systems in Gratiot and Isabella counties have seen “significant benefits” since turbines were installed and noted that Gratiot County will have received an estimated $57 million in tax benefits from 2012 to 2020.
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