DOUGLASS TOWNSHIP – The Douglass Township Planning Commission is hoping for another year to work on the challenge of creating a fair wind energy ordinance.
Well over 100 people attended Wednesday’s three-hour-plus Douglass Township Planning Commission meeting, where a proposed “Citizens Ordinance” on wind energy was tabled until late October and the Planning Commission voted to recommend the township board extend a wind energy moratorium until August 2022. – DN Photo | Elisabeth Waldon
More than 100 people packed Douglass Township Hall on Wednesday night for a three-hour-plus public hearing and meeting.
The end result was the Planning Commission voting 7-0 to recommend their township board extend a wind energy moratorium until Aug. 4, 2022, even though their attorney, Ron Reddick of Mika Meyers in Grand Rapids, advised them against this, warning that the U.S. Supreme Court views moratoriums lasting more than one year with “special skepticism.” The township’s current moratorium – which was approved in a 3-2 vote by the township board in February – is set to expire on Aug. 10. If extended until next August, it would be a total moratorium of one and a half years.
The Planning Commission also voted 7-0 to table a proposed “Citizens Ordinance” on wind until late October. The Planning Commission previously voted 4-2 in May to send the “Citizens Ordinance” to a public hearing to be followed by a vote on whether to recommend the ordinance to the township board, but after Wednesday’s meeting, that ordinance is now on hold.
Some audience members noted that “Citizens Ordinance” wasn’t even placed on the township’s website for residents’ review before the meeting (the most recent wind ordinance on the township’s website is the now-repealed proposed update from November 2020).
“The public wasn’t given the information,” Planning Commissioner Kevin Rush said. “It’s our duty to provide that and they weren’t informed legitimately and had enough time to look at it. That’s taking away from every citizen in this township who pays taxes. It’s an injustice to the citizens.”
“This is a big subject, look at all these people,” Planning Commissioner Todd Wells exclaimed. “We’ve listened to all these comments at all these meetings and we haven’t even had time to talk amongst ourselves as a board (about the ‘Citizens Ordinance’). We haven’t had time to talk in detail about any of these things (in the ordinance).”
Wells also voiced concern about why Planning Commissioner Pat Althoff, who is also a trustee on the township board, didn’t present the Planning Commission’s unanimous recommendation in April to the township board in May to extend the current moratorium until August 2022. Althoff himself had voted to recommend the moratorium extension at the Planning Commission level, but he never presented it to the township board, meaning the board never voted on it.
“Why did this not get presented properly to the other board?” Wells asked. “I don’t understand that at all. Where was the miscommunication on that? It was supposed to be presented to the other board that we wanted this until August (2022). It was not even brought up. That’s misrepresentation of our board to them and I’m confused why Pat didn’t represent us.”
Althoff did not respond to Wells’ comments.
Reddick said as the township’s attorney, he will send the Planning Commission’s recommendation to extend the moratorium until August 2022 to the township board himself at their next regular meeting on Aug. 4 so there won’t be any ambiguity this time.
‘CITIZENS ORDINANCE’ TABLED
Apex Clean Energy Senior Development Manager Albert Jongewaard voiced his support for the additional year-long moratorium, noting that wind energy is “clearly a charged issue in this township and throughout the county” and saying that another year will provide more time to evaluate an ordinance.
Jongewaard “strongly discouraged” approval of the “Citizens Ordinance,” a copy of which he brought with him, the majority highlighted in yellow.
“The ordinance did look pretty familiar,” he said. “About 93 percent of all the words in this proposed ordinance came from Pierson Township.”
This statement received loud cheers and applause from supporters of Pierson Township’s ordinance.
“This ordinance did come from Pierson Township,” Jongewaard repeated. “We’ve been told in past meetings that that was not the case. I’m not trying to point fingers …”
“That’s not true!” Planning Commissioner Cindy Shick declared.
Jongewaard elaborated by saying that one of the only differences from Pierson’s ordinance is that the “Citizens Ordinance” is even more restrictive than Pierson’s. This comment also received applause from Pierson ordinance supporters.
“It’s quite clear where a number of folks in this room stand on wind energy,” Jongewaard said. “They don’t want to see wind turbines co-exist anywhere. That’s their stated goal.”
This comment also brought fourth applause.
“I may just keep talking because I may get another round of applause,” Jongewaard joked.
“I do believe that we can find common ground,” he added. “These projects can be built responsibly. Wind energy does not destroy communities. I believe we can find a way to work together and find some common ground.”
The “Citizens Ordinance” calls for a turbine height limit of 330 feet from the maximum tip of the turbine; a minimum setback of five times the tip height from the property line of a non-participating landowner or any road right-of-way; a daytime noise limit of 45 dBa lmax or 55 dBC at a property line or any point within a non-participating property (unless applicant provides documentation in the form of a signed agreement); a nighttime noise limit of 35 dBa lmax or 45 dBC lmax at a property line or any point within a non-participating property (unless applicant provides documentation in the form of a signed agreement); and zero shadow flicker or strobe effect on properties (without a signed release).
Shick and Planning Commissioner Rick Baldwin both agreed that the “Citizens Ordinance” was not ready to be sent to the township board.
“The ordinance that we brought forth, we did because we were backed into a corner,” Baldwin said. “I also don’t feel it’s ready to be sent on.”
Shick also presented a point-by-point comparison of the township’s current wind ordinance from 2017 compared to the “Citizens Ordinance” to show why she didn’t believe the 2017 ordinance was adequate today (see this reporter’s Twitter account for a closer look at Shick’s presentation: @elisabethwaldon).
“From what I’m hearing, the (township’s current) 2017 (wind ordinance) one is pretty well garbage,” Planning Commission Chairman Jack Jeppesen summarized. “This one here (the ‘Citizens Ordinance’), we’re not ready to pass this onto the board either. We had one that (township planner) Tim Johnson combined … we didn’t even consider that one. We could have been one step ahead, but everybody turned it down. So we’re back to square one now.”
The Planning Commission will once again start working on a wind ordinance at their next regular meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 27.
‘YOU NEED TO BE A LITTLE CAREFUL’
The Montcalm Township Planning Commission is also in the process of updating its wind ordinance, but that process has been delayed by conflict of interest concerns regarding its Chairman Richard “Dick” Karnatz, who has signed a lease agreement with Apex.
Karnatz was in attendance at Wednesday’s Douglass Township Planning Commission meeting.
“You have a tough job, just like we all do,” Karnatz told the planners. “You have to look out down the road. What are you gonna do in this township in five years? What’s gonna happen in four years? What’s gonna happen in 10 years?
“If you read the (July 23) Greenville Daily News, it was brought up at the Eureka Township Board meeting about a restrictive ordinance to use to Sidney (Township) or whatever that Eureka should adopt,” Karnatz added. “The Planning Commission chairman (Duane Putnam) and the township board liaison (Marty Posekany) both said ‘you need to be little careful because we’ve already been there and got burned once. We did a restrictive ordinance on gravel pits.’ What happens if we get short on energy? What’s the state gonna do? That’s the crystal ball. I would rather have something where you can work together between both sides of this and reach an agreement, because if you can control it now, then the state can’t come in here and say, ‘well, 500-foot’s good.’
“Thank you and good luck,” Karnatz concluded.
WHY CAN’T WIND JUST GO TO A VOTE?
One man in the audience, who said he was a supervisor in another Michigan township and owns land in Douglass Township, asked why Apex’s wind turbine proposal or a proposed wind ordinance couldn’t just be placed on a ballot for the entire township or county to vote on.
“Is there a reason why you can’t put it on a ballot? I would think you could put it on a ballot,” he said.
Reddick, as the township’s attorney, responded to this question which has come up a lot lately.
“That is not a permissible way to do things under Michigan law,” Reddick said. “Townships or any municipality are not allowed to put an advisory question on a ballot about whether we should adopt this ordinance or not, or ordinance A or ordinance B. There is no initiative process for township ordinances.
“What there is is a referendum process, meaning that once a zoning ordinance has been adopted there is procedure by which if enough signatures are collected, township voters can then put that on the ballot to decide whether it should become effective or not,” Reddick said. “But it has to be adopted first by the board before that referendum process can be invoked.”
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