PINE TOWNSHIP – The former Pine Township supervisor signed a waiver more than a year ago with the same law firm that’s now representing a wind energy developer looking to construct industrial turbines in the township.
Ed Hansen, who was at that time the supervisor of Pine Township, signed a waiver with Grand Rapids-based law firm Dickinson Wright in May 2020.
The Daily News obtained a copy of the waiver via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request after the topic of possible township attorney conflict of interest came up at Monday’s Pine Township Planning Commission meeting.
When audience members began to ask whether township officials might consider using another law firm not involved with Apex Clean Energy, the Planning Commission abruptly voted 4-3 to adjourn the meeting in the middle of public comment, a violation of the Michigan Open Meetings Act.
Dickinson Wright attorneys have represented Apex locally in recent months on the topic of wind ordinances.
In April, Dickinson Wright attorney Tom Forshee attended a Winfield Township Zoning Board of Appeals meeting alongside Apex Senior Development Manager Albert Jongewaard.
In May, Dickinson Wright attorney Rock Wood wrote a letter to the Sidney Township Board and Planning Commission to express “serious concerns” regarding that township’s proposed wind ordinance.
That same ordinance was approved by the Sidney Township Board in July and is now the same ordinance that Dickinson Wright attorney Ronald Bultje is preparing to advise Pine Township officials on, as the Pine Township Planning Commission is using Sidney’s wind ordinance as Pine’s template.
The Pine Township Planning Commission is next scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. on Aug. 30.
TOWNSHIP/LAW FIRM WAIVER
The Pine Township waiver request was provided in an April 20, 2020, letter from Bultje to Hansen with the subject line “Apex Clean Energy Inc.”
“Dear Ed,” began the request from Bultje. “I am writing to you regarding a request that has been made to our firm. We have been asked to represent Apex Clean Energy Inc. regarding Coral Wind, a wind farm development project that is being planned for Montcalm County. This project would involve lands throughout approximately 12 townships in Montcalm county. Because one of those townships is Pine Township, and because our firm represents Pine Township, we are contacting you to seek your permission and waiver of any potential conflict regarding this potential engagement.
“It is our understanding that Apex representatives have been in communication with most, if not all, of the townships that would be involved, including Pine Township. Our engagement would involve the full scope of legal activities regarding wind farm developments, including real estate, permitting, zoning, land use planning, etc.
“Although Pine Township has a wind energy ordinance, many of the townships do not. We believe that Apex will ask the townships to act in a uniform manner for this project so that ordinance requirements do not vary from township to township. If you agree to this representation by our firm, we have informed Apex that we could not undertake any activity adverse to the township and we would likewise obtain a conflict waiver from Apex in this regard, as required by the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct. In the event the township advises our firm that our representation of Apex is adverse to the township, or Apex advises our firm that our representation of the township is adverse to Apex, our firm will resign from representation of Apex with regard to matters in the township. As to matters pending before the township relating to Apex, our firm will not be able to provide legal services.
“Please let us know if this (is) agreeable to you by signing below and returning the document to me after you have discussed the matter with your board and the board has indicated its direction to you. If this is not agreeable with the township, or if you have questions, please let me know as well. Thanks very much.”
According to the minutes of the May 11, 2020, Pine Township Board meeting, Clerk Marla Sprague made a motion, seconded by former trustee Lynwood Cannon to grant Dickinson Wright a conflict of interest waiver allowing that law firm to represent Apex Clean Energy in Pine Township. The motion unanimously carried.
The waiver signed by Hansen on May 11, 2020, states: “Pine Township agrees and consents to the representation of Apex Wind Energy by the law firm of Dickinson Wright relative to the wind farm project being planned for Montcalm County, including a number of townships including Pine Township, as described in the correspondence above. Pine Township waives any conflict of interest relative such representation, but only to the extent described in the correspondence above.”
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