MAPLE VALLEY TOWNSHIP – The Maple Valley Township Planning Commission introduced two new members and voted unanimously to recommend the township board extend a wind energy moratorium as planners continue to work on a wind ordinance.
However, public comment at last Thursday’s meeting was overshadowed by name-calling from one Douglass Township woman to another. Audience members also continued to voice their concerns about conflict of interest issues on the Planning Commission.
Melissa Bannen of Douglass Township, who is well known as one of the most vocal opponents of commercial wind turbines, was among several audience members Thursday who said township officials should recuse themselves if they or a family member has signed a lease agreement with Apex Clean Energy, which is currently working on bringing a wind turbine project into Montcalm County.
“You let somebody come in and divide this community over money,” said Bannen, turning to face the audience as she spoke.
Bannen then addressed a comment to Kellie Jeppesen of Douglass Township, who is one of the most vocal supporters of wind turbines (Kellie is also the wife of Douglass Township Planning Commission Chairman Jack Jeppesen).
“It’s not funny what this one company did,” Bannen declared to Kellie, who was apparently smiling while Bannen spoke. “Kellie, you can laugh all you want. You’re just as dumb as they are.”
This comment prompted gasps from some in the audience.
“Just the whole stupid community that is falling for a person that came in out of the blue and just decided that they’re just going to take our community and divide it and do whatever they want to it,” Bannen continued. “We have no vote. Take it to a vote and 95% of these people in these townships will say no.”
Bannen sat down as her supporters cheered and applauded her statement.
Kellie Jeppesen responded to Bannen’s comments when she had her own turn at public comment.
“As residents and taxpayers of Montcalm County, we wish to express our ideas also without being talked down to by board members or residents, and we are trying to do the same,” Jeppesen said.
Jeppesen said her previous “smirk” was inappropriate and she apologized (even as she was repeatedly interrupted by some audience members).
“There is a compromise,” said Jeppesen regarding wind energy. “We can use all of the resources that are available to us to make it last longer and to bring energy to this township, to this county, to this state. It’s not just going to be one landowner who receives a financial gain. It will help the community.”
Jeppesen then handed out to the Planning Commission copies of signatures of people “who are willing to stand up and say hey, I would like to listen to you, I would like to come to a compromise. It doesn’t have to be a fight.”
“How many signatures are there?” Bannen yelled.
Jeppesen did not respond to her.
Steven and Jeanne Poulsen of Maple Valley Township spoke in support of wind energy, but Jeanne was repeatedly interrupted by turbine opponents to the point where township officials declared to audience members, “That’s enough. You’re all supposed to be able to speak.”
Mike and Robin Poulsen of Maple Valley Township spoke against wind turbines (Mike is Steven’s brother and the two Poulsen couples are often at odds with each other at wind ordinance meetings).
Mike told Planning Commission Chairman Roger Becker that he should recuse himself from wind ordinance discussion, noting that Becker’s parents have signed with Apex.
“It seems like you’re trying to write an ordinance for yourself,” Mike said.
Becker did not respond.
Robin Poulsen distributed some documents to planners, leading to Penny Bassett of Maple Valley Township questioning a few minutes later why planner Dennis Dombroski declined to even accept the information from Robin.
“Why did Dennis refuse information?” Bassett asked. “He just told Robin no, he wouldn’t take it.That’s to help you understand, but yet you’re not willing to take that time? It’s been shown before that you guys don’t read information given to you, but at least you’ve taken it. He bluntly refused to take information to benefit the ordinance and what he’s trying to do. How is that even right?”
Dombroski took a sip from his thermos and didn’t respond.
“That was basically a slap in the face to somebody that did all this work and is trying to help you understand what’s going on,” Bassett continued. “That was just very unprofessional and unethical for you to be doing that.”
Bassett’s comments were greeted with applause and whistles from her supporters.
Sherrill Houser of Maple Valley Township accused the township’s attorney, Kyle O’Meara of Okemos-based law firm Fahey Schultz Burzych Rhodes, of being pro-wind. Dennis Delaney and Michelle Germain were recently appointed as the two newest members of the Planning Commission, leading Houser to also question Germain about her loyalties.
“Do you have relatives that have signed a lease?” Houser asked Germain. “OK, then you need to recuse yourself for conflict of interest. How many meetings have you attended since this all started?”
O’Meara interrupted here, noting, “Just a point of order … the point of public comment is to give thoughts and your viewpoints and you can say whatever you’d like, but just know that Planning Commission members do not necessarily need to respond to questions.”
Houser asked her meeting question again, but didn’t receive a response.
The Maple Valley Township Board is next scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. on Sept. 13 at the Coral Community Center.
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