PINE TOWNSHIP – The Pine Township Planning Commission unanimously voted to amend their bylaws Monday evening after it was revealed that a majority of planners could have a wind ordinance-related conflict of interest as defined by their current bylaws.
Planning Commissioner Tyler Nadeau, who is also a trustee on the Pine Township Board, previously recused himself from wind discussion last month. During Monday’s meeting, Nadeau said he didn’t plan to recuse himself any further and he wanted the Planning Commission to revisit its bylaws on this matter. Nadeau has a grandparent who has signed a wind lease with Apex Clean Energy, but Nadeau doesn’t believe he personally has a conflict, adding that he doesn’t stand to financially benefit from his grandparent’s lease.
Nadeau’s statement promoted additional revelations from his fellow planners.
“My brother owns property in Douglass Township and Belvedere Township and it was brought to my attention last week that he signed leases on both properties,” Chairman Scott Millard noted. “So the way that that (current bylaws) is written up, I really probably shouldn’t be running a meeting. Is that the way you read that?”
“Yes, under the current language of the ordinance, that would be a conflict of interest,” attorney Leslie Abdoo responded.
“I happen to know my idiot cousins leased theirs out across the road,” Vice Chairman Gary Christensen added.
“He’s in the same boat,” Christensen said, pointing to Planning Commissioner Chris Bell.
“If we’re considering adjacent property, then I know I would be conflicted,” Planning Commissioner Dan Main added (as adjacent property is listed as a conflict of interest in the current bylaws). “So that would be five of us (Bell, Christensen, Main, Millard and Nadeau).”
“Now we don’t have a quorum,” Millard summarized.
After further discussion and attorney advice, the Planning Commission voted 7-0 to direct their attorney to draft language that would allow for all planning commissioners to continue to work on updating the wind ordinance – even if there is a possible conflict of interest – if a quorum of them were technically conflicted (as this would prevent the Planning Commission from even meeting).
“All planning commissioners can serve under this amended rule,” Abdoo summarized.
WIND ORDINANCE DISCUSSION
The Planning Commission made a number of changes to their draft amended wind ordinance Monday in a number of split votes.
At Planning Commissioner Bob Behrenwald’s motion, planners voted 6-1, with Bell opposed, to change turbine setbacks from bodies of water from 2.5 miles to 1.5 miles (Pine Township is only six miles by six miles in size). The vote came after planners reviewed maps of local bodies of water as researched by Main.
“There are a lot of bodies of water in Pine Township,” Main noted. “And you look at other places where they’ve developed wind farms, and that’s just not the case. Our situation is just different. With Montcalm County in general, you’ve got a lot of water and our master plan is very specific about always considering that in any ordinance that we draw up.”
Nadeau suggested reducing water setbacks from 2.5 miles to 1.5 miles in order for the ordinance to appear reasonable in the eyes of the township board – even though he noted reducing water setbacks still won’t necessarily allow turbines.
“There’s a difference between ridiculous and protective, and protective doesn’t always mean restrictive,” Nadeau said. “We can be reasonable in such that the things that we give to the (township) board are things that they will approve.
“It’s not ridiculous,” Behrenwald agreed. “A mile and a half is very sufficient.”
Turbine height is currently limited to 350 feet in the township’s draft amendment. At Nadeau’s motion, planners voted 4-3 to change turbine setbacks from property lines from fives times a turbine’s tip height (which is 1,750 feet for a 350-foot turbine) to three times a turbine’s height or 1,750 feet (whichever is greater).
“Instead of being ridiculous, being protective with something the board wouldn’t necessarily scoff at,” Nadeau summarized.
Behrenwald, Bell and Main voted “no” to reducing setbacks from five times to three times.
The amended ordinance currently limits turbine sound levels to 40 decibels.
As wind discussion wound down, Christensen asked if any officials from Apex were in the audience (no one was present from Apex).
“One of the biggest concerns, I think, is what’s going to happen to property values if these things (turbines) come in, and I’m not talking for the ones that signed a lease – they’ve already signed their life away,” Christensen said. “This is for the ones who don’t want them to come in. I wonder if Apex would be willing to sign one of these property value guarantees.”
This comment was met with applause from many in attendance.
“If these things don’t affect property values, you wouldn’t really be out any money,” Christensen noted.
“If it doesn’t affect it, then they don’t have nothing to worry about, do they?” Bell agreed.
“If they’re already signed, they’ve already given up their rights,” Christensen reiterated. “Everybody deserves protection.”
PUBLIC COMMENT CHANGES
The Planning Commission also voted 7-0 on Monday to approve a public comment policy as written by their attorney after directing her to draft such a policy.
“The purpose of this is to maintain a sense of decorum and to hopefully provide some ground rules for when we’re getting into the public comment portion of the meeting,” Abdoo said.
The new policy as approved limits individual public comment to three minutes per person, or five minutes for someone who is speaking on behalf of a group. Public comments should be addressed to the Planning Commission and not to the audience. Those who speak are asked to first state their name and address. Speakers must not breach the peace of a meeting. Abdoo noted that the Planning Commission is not required to respond or answer questions during public comment.
Nadeau volunteered to keep track of individual public comment time on a phone timer.
As public comment got underway, David Bean of Pine Township referenced last month’s meeting, which ended with Nadeau calling 911 to request police respond to the township hall after public comment escalated into verbal altercations.
“I do think that the last meeting I attended in here was dealt with very unprofessionally by the chairman of this board (Millard) and also the interruption by the township supervisor (Bill Drews),” Bean said. “I feel that’s very inexcusable. I applaud the fact that you guys have changed and upped your standards. As a taxpayer of the township, I do expect that the people who sit up here are true leaders of this community.”
Bean reiterated his comments during the township board meeting, which immediately followed the Planning Commission meeting.
“Everything got a little out of control, at least in my opinion,” said Bean referring to last month’s meeting. “We had a township supervisor here as well as our Planning Commission chair and I thought that unfortunately … how he handled these things, it isn’t a shouting match and … I like Pine Township for its good family values and I hope we stay that way. There’s a lot of stuff going on in our surrounding communities and unfortunately, it all looks bad for Montcalm County as a whole with our leadership.
“I hope something got learned out of all this,” he concluded.
The Planning Commission will next meet at 5 p.m. on Jan. 24 and again on Feb. 14, if necessary. Planners had Nadeau ask for the township board’s approval for planners to have their attorney present again at those next two meetings. The township board approved the request in a 4-0 vote (with Treasurer Kristen Diehl absent), but not without some discussion.
“Well, I got the bill,” Clerk Marla Sprague. “It depends on how long she’s (the attorney) here, but it’s $1,200 to $1,500 per meeting.”
Sprague asked if the attorney could possibly teleconference into a meeting to save time and mileage.
“I don’t want to get into the position of some of the other townships that have spent $40,000 or $50,000 in legal fees to get this done,” Sprague noted. “I want it done right.”
Nadeau noted that the township can either pay for an attorney now or possibly pay for litigation later if the ordinance isn’t written correctly.
“With everything that has transpired in other townships at this point, I almost see having our legal representations here as an insurance policy at this point,” Nadeau said.
“You think she’s worth the money?” Trustee Randy Robson asked.
“I mean, she’s sitting right there through every step – yes,” Nadeau said.
“I think that we’re doing it right and she gives us the conference to know what we’re drafting is done correctly,” Planning Commissioner Jamie Gorby added from the audience. “I can’t imagine doing it without her at this point.”
Township board officials noted that five meetings with the attorney would likely add up to less than $10,000.
“I just don’t think it’s too much to ask for what the task is at hand,” Gorby said.
Millard said he thinks the Planning Commission is close to having an amended wind ordinance to present to the township board (the drafted amendment will need to go before the Montcalm County Planning Commission, as well as to a public hearing before it’s presented to the township board for a vote).
[rest of article available at source]
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding