CATO TOWNSHIP – A short and otherwise unremarkable Cato Township Board meeting ended in a bit of an uproar Monday evening after the supervisor made an unexpected declaration.
As the meeting was drawing to an end after about 15 minutes of regular business, a man in the audience of more than 30 people asked, “Where do we stand on this wind turbine stuff?”
The Cato Township Planning Commission has been working on updating its wind energy ordinance, with its next special meeting scheduled for Aug. 11.
However, Supervisor Larry Gilbert’s response to the man in the audience surprised some.
“Sir, there’s gonna be turbines,” Gilbert declared. “They’re gonna be here. We can maybe have some setbacks, but as far as turbines, if we outlaw them, they’ll just take us to court.”
This statement was met by laughter and disbelief among some audience members.
Planning Commissioner Brandi Clark-Hubbard was in attendance and clarified that the Planning Commission is still working on updating its wind ordinance.
“It doesn’t do much good if the board’s already got their mind made up,” a man declared.
“The government’s pretty much said …” Gilbert began, but he was met with multiple interruptions.
“I don’t think we can outlaw them,” Gilbert said.
“Yeah, we can!” multiple audience members shouted.
“I don’t wanna argue with you,” Gilbert said. “I’m not gonna argue.”
Leslie Rydahl of Pine Township told township board members there are many examples of case law in support of restrictive wind ordinances.
“You do not have to worry about getting sued as long as you are protecting the health, safety and welfare of your citizens,” she said.
“Like I said, I’m not gonna argue with you,” Gilbert responded. “It’s not up to this board. I think they’re gonna be here. That’s my opinion.”
“If you make a blanket statement like ‘they’re gonna be here or we’re gonna get sued’ – that’s a hard one to swallow,” a woman in the audience declared.
“I’m sorry I said it, but that’s what I feel,” Gilbert responded.
“It felt like an announcement that they’re gonna be here or we’re gonna get sued,” the woman said. “That’s a very sad thought process. We might get sued, but we’re gonna win.”
“I’m not gonna lie, my heart just sank with you saying that,” said Jamie Snyder of Cato Township who was sitting in the front row. “You just broke my heart by saying that. Now I’m afraid you guys are gonna vote down what these guys (Planning Commission) bring to you. My heart is racing right now and I’m now terrified for my township. You just really caused me concern. Seriously, I’m shaking right now because this is terrifying for me.”
“I know what she’s feeling,” added Snyder’s mother, Linda Reynolds of Douglass Township. “She’s kind of crushed right now.”
Clerk Todd Lincoln attempted to clarify things.
“We’re waiting for our Planning Commission to make recommendations and, in all honesty, I’m guessing it’s going to be months before they make recommendations and we’ll probably need to get a legal opinion,” Lincoln said. “We don’t want to back ourselves into a corner. We just want to make sure whatever we do, we’re not too exclusionary or restrictive. We have to listen to both sides and hopefully find common ground and some way to compromise with everybody.”
“That’s enough about wind,” Gilbert added to audience members.
“I’m pretty sure we want to continue to talk about wind,” responded Jessica Kwekel of Cato Township. “This is an extremely touchy subject, I understand that. But for people who only own a few acres and to see our community’s getting sold out … I hope you continue to do your research, Larry, because it seems like you’re a little uninformed about the situation. It’s really unfortunate that you already have your mind set and your heart set. We’ll continue to referendum anything that doesn’t protect the health, safety and welfare of the community.”
Treasurer Joyce Grieser then shared her own thoughts.
“As Larry said, these are his feelings,” Grieser said. “We are a board. We don’t go behind closed doors and say ‘let’s talk about wind and damn the public.’ We are a board. Our Planning Commission is working on this. They will bring it to us and we will vote. My mind’s not made up, so keep talking to me.”
Gilbert then adjourned the meeting.
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