PIERSON TOWNSHIP – Tuesday’s three-hour meeting of the Pierson Township Board began with a plea from the supervisor for civility.
Exactly one minute later, the meeting devolved into shouting and interrupting from audience members.
“Let’s have everyone treated with respect and dignity,” Supervisor Dan Buyze requested before the start of public comment. “You may hear things you don’t like, but we’re adults, not undisciplined 5-year-olds. We’ve had a few of those in the past (referring to the Pierson Township Planning Commission’s June 3 meeting) and it won’t be tolerated at tonight’s meeting.”
Zoning Administrator Orvin Moore then stood to recap what exactly the township board would be voting on, but when Moore referred to one portion of the wind ordinance remaining at three times the tip height of a turbine, the tone of the meeting went downhill immediately.
“Four!” audience members yelled out.
“Hey, you wanna leave or not?” Buyze told those yelling.
“It says four right here, I printed it out!” a woman declared of the ordinance.
“The ordinance says the test towers and the wind energy for … where’d it go …” Moore said trailing off. As he attempted to find the correct wording of the pages he was reading, township resident Shirley Dean got up from the audience to help him with the pages as it was a windy evening.
Audience members continued to interrupt, leading one township official to ask, “Where’s our sheriff?” (the township has requested the presence of Montcalm County sheriff’s deputies at recent meetings, but the deputies didn’t arrive until later during Tuesday’s meeting)
“Oh, you’re really gonna ask for a sheriff for residents who pay taxes?” township resident Jeremy Carle asked from the audience. “You’re gonna ask for a sheriff, really?”
As Buyze attempted to tell Carle he would have a chance to speak, Carle responded by raising his voice.
“I’m just shocked that you’re gonna ask for a sheriff for people voicing their opinions that pay taxes in this township,” Carole yelled.
“Recall!” yelled another man.
“Resign! Resign! Resign!” Carle hollered.
Audience members continued to interrupt Moore as he attempted to read the proposed ordinance amendments out loud – “Can I finish? he asked. He persevered and things temporarily calmed down.
After a lengthy public comment session took place, the township board voted 5-0 to adopt the Planning Commission’s recommendation (meaning turbine setbacks will remain at four times a turbine’s tip height, with the exception of non-commercial turbines which remain at three times).
“There is a process of appeal for anything in this book,” Buyze noted while holding up the township’s ordinance book. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but there is a process. The guiding process of all ordinances is to protect neighbors, to protect the property owner themselves, property values and the values and lifestyles of Pierson Township residents. I believe the recommendations by the Planning Commission on the amendments has met the requirements of process and followed the guiding principles of what an ordinance represents.”
‘I DON’T WANT OUR BOARD TO BE BULLIED’
Later in the meeting, township resident Jeanne Hamilton expressed her disgust about some people’s conduct at the June 3 Planning Commission meeting.
“I was totally embarrassed to be a part of this community with the over-talking, not listening to directions, it was basically coming to a meeting and hearing adults do everything that they tell their children not to do – be disrespectful, talking over …” Hamilton said before being interrupted.
“Hey, this is about the windmills, not a school bus!” a man yelled.
“Why I would vote for this is people like that, because they’re not listening, they’re not paying attention,” Hamilton responded.
“Don’t condescend!” a woman yelled.
“I would sincerely hope that everybody here would open their mind a little bit and listen instead of just barking out commands about how they want it,” Hamilton said. “They (township officials) were bullied and I don’t want our board to be bullied. It was totally embarrassing to be up here and listen to the way people treated the people we elected, that we wanted in here.”
Township resident Norm Hawkins responded to Hamilton’s comments later.
“I didn’t see any Planning Commission members bullied a couple of weeks ago,” he said. “Instead I saw a lot of thoughtful members of our community voice their opinion. It’s a huge issue that affects our entire township. It’s a very divisive issue.”
Later yet in the meeting, in response to people being concerned about turbines possibly causing seizures, Apex’s Public Engagement Manager Brian O’Shea cited studies from the Epilepsy Foundation which state that turbine blades don’t turn fast enough to cause seizures. O’Shea also responded to comments made by Jeremy Kwekel of Cato Township earlier at Tuesday’s meeting about turbines decreasing property values.
“Look over at Gratiot County,” O’Shea said. “Property values in Gratiot County over the past decade kept pace with the state average, if not exceeded the state average.”
Some audience members scoffed and laughed at this and Kwekel yelled a retort.
“Have some respect, please,” Buyze requested. “Come on – you’re not 5 years old. Show some respect. Everyone gets to talk.”
“I’m 10,” Kwekel said sarcastically.
‘THE FAIR USE OF OUR LAND’
Tuesday’s meeting featured the most pro-wind public comments than any prior Pierson Township Board meeting and it also featured at least an equal amount of opposition, including from many people who live outside of Pierson Township (the Daily News is primarily quoting township residents in this article, as the newspaper has focused on doing in previous wind energy articles).
Buyze began public comment by reading aloud a letter from Dave and Mary Tibbe of Pierson Township, who were among those attending Apex Clean Energy’s community open house on June 8 in Pierson.
“Just wanted to voice our support in favor of a less restrictive wind energy ordinance,” the Tibbe letter read. “We have not signed a lease with Apex, but do support what they are doing. I think it would be a great financial benefit for the community as a whole. I urge the board to at least table it and consider all residents’ viewpoints.”
Dean read a letter from her father, township resident George Bradley who owns about 500 acres on the east side of Federal Road (old 131) which is where Pierson Township’s designated wind energy zone is located. Bradley was happy with the township’s ordinance and didn’t want turbine setbacks to be increased.
“Please vote to reduce the setbacks for the proposed windmills in the final ordinance,” Bradley wrote. “Do not take our land rights away. Medical evidence does not show that windmills cause any health issues. Don’t listen to the outsiders, they do not understand what it is like to be a farm owner.”
“I don’t like what they (turbines) look like, but that being said, my husband and I are for wind,” Dean added herself. “I’ve looked into the shadow effect, the noise effect, I’ve talked to people who live in Gratiot County who have windmills. Windmills – get over the cosmetics – they are beneficial for the community.”
Laura Stack, who wore a “Montcalm Wind” hat, lives east of Federal Road.
“We’re on board with the new technology of the wind turbines,” she said. “We got lots of wind here and we feel it’s time for a change. There’s nothing to lose, only to gain.”
Township resident Nancy Johnson submitted a letter with signatures from township wind energy supporters, including Mary Tietoff, Brenda Johnson, Jackie Swart, Priscilla and Robert Heimbecker, Steven and Jeanne Poulsen, Sheril Hernandez, Judith Rowland, Earle Hayden, Deborah and Dennis Dingman, Judith and Jacob Sheber, Teri Swart, Scott and Cathy Hayden and Richard “Tom” Rowland.
“Though we are not always able to attend meetings in person – and many of us could not attend the Planning Commission’s recent public hearing due to a variety of reasons including working in the fields – we do follow the news,” the letter read in part. “We were disappointed to see the Planning Commission give in to demands to increase setbacks that may prevent us from developing our property in a wind project because of complaints from many attendees who do not pay taxes in Pierson Township. We believe it is important you listen to those who pay taxes on the land in the wind district. Increasing the township’s already restrictive setbacks will strip us of our property rights and deny those of us who support wind energy the fair use of our land. If anything, regulations should be changed to allow a project to be built within the approved district, not made more restrictive.”
In speaking to township officials, Jeanne Poulsen referenced her late father, Montcalm County Commissioner Carl Papke.
“He attended a lot of these meetings in Pierson and he would be upset for you all to not want the people to do with their property what they can,” she said. “He always said as I was growing up ‘people can do what they want with their own property.’ He said ‘I don’t care if it looks like a junkyard, it’s their property.’ I think the setbacks are too restrictive and we need to change them. I am for wind for our children. I am for the electricity that we will get from it. I would hope that you would do right by the people that have grown up here and made this place what it is.”
Paul Eikenhof owns farmland in Pierson Township and is the president of the Helping Hands food pantry in Howard City.
“We’ve been through droughts and this is drought-proof,” he said of wind energy. “I’m really excited about how the better tax revenue will help our community. We serve over 5,000 needy people in this area every year and I really look forward to the opportunity to have that lessened a little bit.”
‘I DON’T WANT MY SKYLINE MESSED UP’
Township resident Jeff Smith wore a “No Wind” T-shirt as he responded to Jeanne Poulsen’s comments.
“If a man could do whatever he wanted on his land, there would be no need for planning committees,” he noted. “Windmills are a very inefficient way of producing electricity. You will pay more for your electricity with windmills than you do now currently. If 10% prosper, 90% are gonna pay.”
“I think there are health issues, I think there are safety issues,” township resident Susan Smith added. “I’ve spent a fair amount of time on the Montcalm County (Citizens United) website and it’s extremely informative about what’s going on the in the communities – there’s (turbine) breakage, the impact of ice and snow falling, there’s a lot of problems with these and you have them for 30 years. It may look like a financial windfall but it’s not.”
Carle, who had interrupted the meeting earlier, spoke during public comment later.
“I’m against the reduced setbacks,” he said. “We already have a dump (the landfill in Pierson Township) where everybody else and their brother hauls their trash, OK, and dumps it in our community. I don’t want my skyline messed up with other people’s electricity.”
Carle also voiced his displeasure with the township official’s comment that law enforcement was needed to deal with him. By this point in the meeting, Montcalm County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Fox and Mike Kotenko had shown up and were standing at the back of the audience.
“Anybody who voices their opinion should not be threatened with the police,” Carle declared. “We are taxpaying citizens here. I’m pretty upset by that comment earlier.”
“For clarity, Jeremy …” Buyze began.
“No, there ain’t no clarity,” Carle interrupted.
“No, there is clarity, sir,” Buyze responded. “We do want to hear what you have to say, but we don’t want to hear what you have to say while other people are trying to talk. That’s just plain disrespectful.”