PINE TOWNSHIP – Of the 950 wind energy surveys sent out in the township, only 311 were returned, and multiple people say they never even received one.
Meanwhile, the survey results will not be made public until at least mid-July.
The survey contained 13 questions regarding wind turbines and Pine Township officials say they will use the feedback as they decide whether to amend the township’s wind energy ordinance which hasn’t been updated since 2016.
The surveys were due back to the township by May 26. Nearly one month later, the results have not yet been made public.
“It seems like everything’s secretive like we don’t get to know what’s going on behind the scenes, especially with the survey,” township resident Lindsey Simon noted during the June 14 Pine Township Board meeting.
Lindsey’s husband Curt Simon noted the township’s current wind permit “pause” will expire by mid-October and he questioned why the township board and Planning Commission aren’t hosting special meetings to move the process along (the Planning Commission is next scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. July 12). Curt also questioned why the surveys haven’t been made public yet.
The Daily News submitted a FOIA request to Pine Township on June 17 for copies of the survey responses. The township on Monday requested a 10-day extension in addition to the regular five days it had to respond, meaning the township now has until July 9 to respond. The township is charging the Daily News $62.50 to make copies of the 311 survey responses.
The topic of surveys was heavily discussed at the June 14 township board meeting as part of a lengthy public comment session that became heated multiple times.
Multiple audience members detailed how they or someone they knew didn’t receive a copy of the survey in the mail.
Val Dumas of Ada said she has a cottage on Rainbow Lake and pays taxes, but she never received a survey.
Township resident Nancy Spanski, who was on the committee to develop the survey questions, said she’s spoken with multiple people who didn’t receive the survey either. Spanski said she told those people to contact Planning Commission Secretary Rosemary Witt, which Spanski said they did but she said they said Witt told them to come to her house to pick up the survey instead of mailing it to them.
Township resident Leslie Rydahl said she knows multiple people who rent on Rainbow Lake and they never received a survey. Rydahl became emotional as she spoke about how the wind turbine issue has consumed her life lately and how she has personally knocked on the doors of 100 residents to let people know about Apex Clean Energy’s proposed Montcalm Wind project.
“We’re not standing for it and we’re not gonna back down,” Rydahl said tearfully. “I understand Apex has got everyone afraid of a lawsuit? Well, that can go both ways. You have citizens and they may take this to a referendum.”
Trustee Randy Robson said the township has a process for tabulating the survey responses and they are continuing to work on them.
“I’m not sure anybody in here wants to sit down and read 311 surveys,” Robson said (the Daily News does).
“You’ve gotta be patient,” Robson told the audience. “You are not going to get the information before the Planning Commission and that’s not going to happen before July.”
“At this point, at the July meeting when the Planning Commission occurs, I’m sure you’re going to hear more,” Supervisor Bill Drews agreed. “Until then, I just don’t have anything else to share with you.”
The meeting had become chaotic at this point, with audience members shouting out comments and openly talking among themselves while Drews repeatedly used his gavel, yelling, “Excuse me! Respect me!” at one point.
“We don’t get true answers,” Curt Simon declared. “I expect that, that we don’t get true answers. ‘I’m sorry, you’re not gonna get any more answers, we’re not gonna let you know what’s going on.’ I appreciate that. Have a good one.”
Curt then rose from his seat and stormed out of the meeting as other audience members sarcastically yelled at the township board, “But pay your taxes, people!”
“We’re just simple people asking simple questions, that’s all we want, that’s it,” a frustrated man in the audience told the township board.
“Why is it a secret? I don’t know why it’s a secret,” a woman in the audience said.
“There is no secrets,” Drews declared. “Why are you accusing the board of having secrets?”
“We’re not hiding from you. We don’t know it,” Robson added of the survey. “We will know it eventually.”
Audience members continued to ask why some people didn’t receive the survey. Drews said he didn’t know.
“I’m not a child,” said one woman who said she didn’t receive the survey. “I pay my taxes. You guys are in charge of sending out the survey. Somebody gets my property tax bills to me. I did my due diligence on this.”
“Listen, I just explained to you that I don’t have an answer for that,” Drews said.
“We don’t know,” Clerk Marla Sprague emphasized to the audience.
“You have to understand that everybody’s opinion matters and if there was a mistake, there should be a way to rectify that mistake and there doesn’t appear to be such,” a woman in the audience said. “Or does my opinion not matter as a property owner?”
“This back and forth is getting us nowhere. There was a deadline,” said Drews – a comment which promoted groans and laughter from audience members. “There was lots of leeway given for those that turned their surveys in late.”
“You already know my opinion, it really doesn’t matter at this point,” said a frustrated woman in the audience. “It’s almost kind of funny.”
“At this point, this meeting has digressed,” Drews said. “There’s nothing more we can pull from this.”
‘DEMAND THE QUESTION’
Public comment was also dominated by audience members asking township officials whether they had signed or planned to sign a lease with Apex. This was brought to a head when Jeremy Kwekel of Cato Township ignored Drews’ gavel and request to be quiet.
“You guys need to demand the question,” said Kwekel, turning to address audience members. “If we just make statements, they have no obligation to answer us. Public comment was just designed so boards could just tune out and let us vent. We need to ask questions and the group needs to hold them accountable.”
“You need to answer the question!” multiple audience members declared to the township board.
A bit later in the meeting, township officials did answer the question one by one.
“I personally am not going to lease,” Treasurer Kristen Diehl said. “One, I don’t have enough property and two, I don’t want one. But my brother-in-law, (Winfield Township Board Trustee and Planning Commissioner) John Black in Winfield Township, probably is planning to sign. When you say it rips families apart, yes, it really does.”
“I live in a house near state land,” Robson said. “The turbines will not come on state land, they will not come on my lake and they will not come by my house.”
Trustee Tyler Nadeau said he does not have enough land either and he is not planning on signing, but he wouldn’t say whether any of his family members had.
“It’s none of my business,” Nadeau said.
“That’s a yes!” shouted a woman from the audience.
“I don’t appreciate anyone putting words in my mouth,” Nadeau responded. “This entire meeting has been this public putting words in this board’s mouth and I don’t appreciate it at all. I am representing everyone in this township. Not everyone is here. I am right down the middle, straight and narrow. I’m a high school math teacher. I put up with BS all day long with kids and other teachers. I know I have to stay down the middle, but I do not appreciate it when people in this community put words in my mouth. I am listening to everyone in this room, that’s my job. I am also listening to everyone else who’s not in this room, that is also my job.”
“I agree with Tyler,” Sprague said. “I don’t own enough land to sign a lease. I am in the middle too. I try to listen to both sides. We can’t be pro one or pro the other. We have to listen to both sides and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
“I own land,” Drews said. “Have a seen a lease? Yes, I’ve seen a lease. Would I sign a lease? At this point, negative. If three years from now I look out my window and see a turbine, I’ll be OK with that. If I don’t see one, I’ll be OK with that. I’ve been accused of not saying much, but I tell you folks, I’ve been listening a lot. We’re here to protect the health, safety and welfare and that’s what we’re going to do. I’m right down the middle.”
Also during the June 14 meeting, township officials discussed what they should and shouldn’t place on their new website (pinetownship.net) after Lindsey Simon requested that a wind energy video presentation from Kevon Martis be placed online, as well as contact information for the Pine Township Coalition for Safe Energy.
The township previously placed a video presentation from Sarah Mills on the township website, along with three businesses under a “business listings” section (Langston General Store, Langston Pizza & Deli and Superior Boat & Motor).
In response to Lindsey’s request that the Martis presentation be placed online, Drews said he instead had the Mills presentation removed from the website.
“We’re new to this,” Drews said. “We were trying to find the least amount of bias on one side or another. We thought she (Drews) did a good job presenting both sides, the pros and cons of wind. Her research was grant-funded and hopefully helpful to people.
Regarding Martis, “It wasn’t something that the board hosted,” Drews said. “Some people didn’t like how Sarah Mills came across and I can’t help that, that’s their opinion. But I asked Randy (Robson) to take it (Mills’ presentation) down. You can still access either one of those two (on other websites).”
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