PINE TOWNSHIP – The Pine Township Planning Commission has scheduled the first of several special meetings to update its wind ordinance after surveys revealed that two-thirds of respondents are against large wind turbines being constructed.
The Planning Commission met Monday evening, followed by a Pine Township Board meeting. The meetings ended with the Planning Commission scheduling the first of several special meetings for 5 p.m. on Monday at the township hall to discuss amending its wind ordinance. The township board also voted 4-0 to extend its wind energy moratorium to Jan. 12, 2022.
Planning Commission Chairman Scott Millard briefly referred to the wind survey by saying no one was probably surprised by the results; however, he did not specify the results. The Daily News obtained copies of the surveys – which were turned in to the township by May 26 – after having to submit a June 17 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and paying $62.50 to obtain the surveys on July 8.
“My husband was like, ‘You have to read the paper. The surveys are in the paper!’” Treasurer Kristen Diehl reported during Monday’s township board meeting. “The (survey tally) report I got from (Planning Commission Secretary) Rosemary (Witt) matches identically what the Daily News says so I thought wow, that’s fantastic.”
After the Daily News article was published on Monday morning, the township posted a tally of survey results online that afternoon.
“We did get the results back from the survey. I don’t think anybody was probably surprised at how that came out,” Millard said. “It looked like to me that the big concerns were the size of the equipment, the flickering, the setbacks. I don’t think there were any big surprises on it. On the positive side of it, if there was some extra money generated from taxes, it sounds like a lot of people would like to see better roads and to see their taxes reduced, more going toward the schools. I don’t think anybody was surprised by that either.”
Vinny Trierweiler of Pine Township responded to this comment from the audience.
“There was a beautiful analysis of the surveys by Elisabeth Waldon in the Daily News today, just this morning, and the basic final conclusion was that two to one, people did not want the turbines to come to this community,” Trierweiler said. “You can read that in the paper today.”
“Right and that’s what I was saying, I don’t think anybody’s surprised about …” Millard began.
“You didn’t list any numbers, so I just wanted to clarify that,” Trierweiler noted.
Apex Clean Energy Public Engagement Manager Brian O’Shea thanked township officials for doing the survey, but he noted a majority of people didn’t respond (the township sent out 950 surveys and only received 311 responses).
“I think it was helpful just the breadth of issues that you all covered to understand what people’s concerns and views were on issues,” O’Shea said. “My biggest takeaway from the survey, which I think is not a surprise, the vast majority of people didn’t weigh in. That means a lot of people haven’t made up their minds yet.”
Brenden Miller, the field operations director for the Land & Liberty Coalition (which, according to its website is “a state-based group of local citizens, across the midwest, who support utility-scale renewable energy developments”) , was in the audience and explained how he used to speak up against wind turbine projects but changed his mind after he became a farmer.
“It’s really not my right to tell somebody with 50, 60, 70, 100 acres what they ought to do with their own land,” Miller said. “Most things that I was told by opposition groups was just a lie, quite frankly, or at least misdirected. I think what’s so important is that we have facts involved in these discussions. We respect rural culture and part of respecting rural culture is respecting rural property rights. The government should stay the hell out of our lives. If we want to make a dumb decision – or what some people might describe as a dumb decision – by putting wind turbines on our property, then I think it’s our right to do so.”
“If the government stayed out of this, we wouldn’t even be here talking about turbines,” Mark Mitchell of Pine Township responded from the audience.
State Rep. Patrick Outman, R-Six Lakes, was also present at Monday’s meetings and he attended other local township wind meetings throughout the week.
“I wanted to see how this process is playing out in terms of crafting these wind ordinances and to be a resource in any way possible,” Outman told the Daily News. “I wanted to get a sense of what my constituents are feeling in regard to these wind projects. I’m neither for or against. I’ll support whatever the residents of Montcalm County decide throughout this process.
“With that being said, if some of these projects are approved, I want to ensure that these zoning ordinances are crafted in a way that is fair to everyone,” he added. “There’s been a good debate on both sides of this issue and I would encourage everyone to educate themselves about these projects.”
UNAWARE OF BYLAWS
Lindsey Simon of Pine Township asked if anyone on the Planning Commission has signed a lease with Apex. Township board members have previously said they haven’t signed with Apex, although Trustee Tyler Nadeau – who is also a member of the Planning Commission – declined to say whether any of his family members had, adding, “It’s none of my business.”
Millard responded to Simon’s question by saying he has not signed with Apex but that he’s never asked anyone on the Planning Commission whether they have signed with Apex.
“I don’t want them to feel pressured in any way,” Millard said. “I’ve never asked that question and I probably never will. I’m just trusting that if they did, that they’ll abstain.”
Audience members said any township official who has signed with Apex should announce it publicly and they also noted the Planning Commission’s bylaws address conflict of interest issues. Millard then admitted that he only recently became aware of the Planning Commission bylaws and he hasn’t read them yet.
“I saw a copy of it for the first time probably two weeks ago,” he said. “It’s something that has always been tucked away in a file and that most of the board didn’t know about and I think most of the Planning Commission didn’t either. I haven’t read it, but it’s there.”
Millard said the Planning Commission has been using a Michigan Townships Association “red book” for running their meetings instead.
According to a July 9 letter from attorney Joshua Nolan of Nolan Law in Toledo, Ohio – which Simon distributed copies of to audience members – the Planning Commission’s bylaws were adopted in April 2010 and state that members shall avoid conflicts of interest, including “issuing, deliberating on, voting or previewing a case concerning work on land owned by him or her” or “any other relationship where he or she may stand to have a financial gain or loss” or “an action which results in a pecuniary benefit to him or her” or “concerning his or her spouse, children, stepchildren, grandchildren, parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, parents-in-law, grandparents-in-law or members of his or her household.” The bylaws state that anyone with a conflict of interest shall immediately “cease to participate at the Commission or committee meetings or in any other manner or represent one’s self before the commission, its staff or others.”
Pine Township Supervisor Bill Drews then stood up in the audience and read a portion of the bylaws which state, “each member shall represent and advocate what is best for Pine Township as a whole, putting aside personal and special interests,” which Drews said speaks for itself.
“It shouldn’t be anybody else’s business whether or not a relative has leased,” Drews said.
“Bylaws are how you are supposed to run and operate the Planning Commission,” Shelley Grube of Pine Township noted. “And you just found out about the bylaws …”
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