SIDNEY TOWNSHIP – Dozens of Sidney Township residents and out-of-town visitors filed into the Sidney Township Hall on Monday night, anxious to see how the vote on the township’s proposed wind ordinance would play out.
The 4-1 vote to approve the restrictive wind ordinance resulted in applause, cheers and a horn being blasted from the back of the room and the vocal majority of the attendees leaving satisfied; however, not everyone was happy with the outcome.
The Sidney Township Board voted 4-1 to accept the proposed wind ordinance as given to them by the Planning Commission. Trustee Jed Welder voted “no” which caused much disdain from some audience members as Welder previously abstained from voting on wind energy-related motions because he’s signed a property lease with Apex Clean Energy.
“MTA (The Michigan Township Association) said he can vote on it,” Supervisor Terry Peterman said of Welder’s vote.
Township officials also voted 4-1 to accept the proposed solar energy ordinance, with Welder once again voting “no.”
With Peterman noting that Monday’s meeting drew one of the larger audiences the township board meeting has had in years, some members of the public had a chance to speak before the vote.
Clerk Carrie Wills read a letter written by Lynn Henschell that detailed Henschell’s opposition to allowing wind turbines in residential areas.
“We believe the will of the majority of the residents should prevail and it is incumbent on all board members to seek out the opinions of all the residents as possible and act accordingly,” Wills read. “We know there are board members who believe this as well and we appreciate their efforts to protect our democratic process. The county planners, if quoted correctly, have speculated to the best of their ability their opinion of the planned ordinance. However, respecting their opinion and knowledge, they are not necessarily objective and not the final word in legal advice.”
In June, the Montcalm County Planning Commission sent comments to the Sidney Township Board stating that they believed the township’s ordinance was “too restrictive” and might “put the township in jeopardy.”
Township officials on Monday also heard from guest speaker Laura Engel of Sidney Township, who spoke in favor of a less restrictive wind ordinance.
“I’m fully convinced we have recently been given an opportunity to put one of these God-given blessings to a positive and beneficial use,” Laura said. “Larry (Laura’s husband) and I fully support the efforts of Apex to place wind turbines in our county. Even if we’d chosen not to lease with Apex or had been otherwise ineligible to participate, we’d still be in support of what they’re proposing. Our interest in making use of alternative means of supply and electric energy is not contingent on receiving financial benefit.”
Any chatter throughout the sizable crowd quickly died down upon township officials approaching the topic of old business and bringing the wind ordinance up for a vote.
Treasurer Corinda Stover motioned to accept the ordinance with some corrected spelling errors.
“That was just some typos,” noted Trustee Ray Leyer, who seconded Stover’s motion.
With no further discussion, Stover’s motion was brought to a vote. Stover, Leyer, Wills and Peterman all voted “yes,” while Welder voted “no.”
The vote caused an almost immediate reaction from the majority of those in attendance, as many stood to applaud, high-five one another and thank township officials for passing a restrictive wind ordinance.
A second motion to accept the proposed solar energy ordinance passed in another 4-1 vote with Welder opposed, resulting in more applause from the ordinance.
Both copies of the ordinances can be found on Sidney Township’s website (sidneymi.org).
Robert Scott of Grand Rapids and Sidney Township was quick to point out that Welder didn’t abstain from voting.
“Both my lawyer and the MTA said that I can vote on it, Bob,” Welder said in response. “If you’d like to discuss it afterward, I’d love to talk to you.”
“As members of the public and members of this township, we’re objecting that he (Welder) has any say in this ordinance,” Scott replied.
“MTA told us that Jed has the right to vote on it,” Peterman said. “That’s the only thing he can vote on because of being a landowner in the township.”
“He should not be voting on anything,” Scott emphasized. “He shouldn’t even be sitting at the table when (you’re) voting on it.”
Other audience members expressed their appreciation to the township for passing the ordinance.
“I’d like to thank you very much for taking the health, welfare and safety of your citizens in,” said Melissa Bannen of Douglass and Pine townships. “This is a great example of what happens to these communities – they get divided, nobody likes each other anymore and there are families who get upset … This is a community where we will all go across the street right now and pick up the garbage that somebody left behind because we care about the community. We need to stop, we need to thank them (the board) and we need to move onto the next township.”
“We have a responsibility to the community as a whole,” Jon Muilenburg of Sidney Township agreed. “I don’t care if you live in a trailer, if you have a house on the lake or if you don’t even have a house but are living in a tent, we have a responsibility. This is what you’ve (the board) done. You’ve protected them.”
Apex’s Senior Development Manager Albert Jongewaard was present as well.
“The board has voted,” he said. “I want to acknowledge that we submitted a good bit of information to the board and the Planning Commission. We tried to make ourselves available to people who have had questions and many folks in this room. We’ve opened up our doors and will continue to do so.
“I have to admit that I’m a little disappointed because the ordinance that was voted on tonight is 100 percent restrictive. That’s a reality. What that means, at the end of the day, is that folks who own property in the township who choose to use the property to participate in the (Montcalm Wind) project don’t have the right to do that. They continue to pay taxes without representation of being able to use their land in the process. As we move forward, we will continue to be open.”
“Bully,” someone in the audience said to Jongewaard.
“I’d like to try and find a way where it’s OK for people to have different opinions without being called a bully, without being harassed online, without being harassed in public, etc.,” Jongewaard said. “Folks who think that wind energy is a good thing for the community have the right to do so. There are thousands of wind turbines across the county today operating safely. It doesn’t change the fact that these things are a legal land-use and business entity.”
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