MAPLE VALLEY TOWNSHIP – As this township’s wind energy moratorium nears its end, the Planning Commission is continuing to work through stages of the draft wind ordinance.
The Maple Valley Township Board last September unanimously voted to extend a wind energy projects moratorium, originally adopted in March 2021, for an additional 180 days or until the township enacts a zoning ordinance amendment to address such projects.
During Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting, Chairman Roger Becker noted the Planning Commission hasn’t finished its work with the wind ordinance, meaning another extension is likely on the way.
“We still haven’t done anything with the sound, so the ordinance is not ready,” Becker said. “We’ll go to the (Township) Board and let them know that we still haven’t got it done yet. We’ll go from there and see what they have to say.”
The Planning Commission on Thursday continued to discuss both the wind ordinance and upcoming meetings with sound engineers. Planning Commissioner Dennis Delaney was absent.
Upon reviewing some of the changes made to the wind draft at January’s meeting, Commissioner Ann Petersen said she had some further changes to the ordinance she wanted to consider.
Using documents from the MSU Extension Office as a guide, Petersen brought up the topic of lake setbacks. Prior to Thursday’s meeting, the draft ordinance said utility wind turbines must be located a minimum of a half-mile from the high-water mark of township lakes, unless all property owners surrounding a lake sign a waiver to dismiss the setbacks.
“My understanding from these last several months is there’s a discrepancy, especially with people on the lakes, that they would rather not have the setbacks right at the edge of the water,” Petersen said.
The Planning Commission voted 6-0 to change the draft so that setbacks begin at the property line of lake properties instead of the high-water mark.
Petersen then wanted to change the draft so that setbacks for non-participating lots around the lake were two times a turbine’s tip height rather than three times. Secretary Andi Knapp questioned why the township would want to do something that’s “less safe” for those residents; however, Beckman pointed out that the draft’s current setback for lake properties was a half-mile and not based on turbine height.
Leaving that part of the ordinance unchanged, Petersen later brought up tip height and said she wanted to make accommodations for turbines that fall within the 500- to 600-foot range.
With the draft currently saying that turbines may not exceed 500 feet in height, Beckman recommended leaving things as is.
With the Maple Valley Township Board voting in January to allow the Planning Commission to schedule meetings with two different sound engineers – Rand Acoustics LLC and ABD Engineering & Design – the topic came up again on Thursday.
Becker said they were still working with ABD to get an approved quote and date when they could schedule that meeting, while Knapp said Rand Acoustics was available to meet after Feb. 17.
In response to some of the claims made at the Township Board’s January meeting that Rand Acoustics was affiliated with Kevon Martis – the Deerfield Township zoning administrator and the founding director of the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition in Blissfield – Knapp read a letter that Robert Rand of Rand Acoustics sent to the Planning Commission.
“As a neutral party, my services include noise control, community impact assessment, designing to meet regulations with an adequate margin of safety and protecting health and welfare,” the letter said. “…In my firm’s independent, professional consultant capacity, there is no particular bias or interest in the brand of noise-producing equipment being investigated. If someone levels the charge of ‘anti-wind,’ by that same logic, they’d have to make claims of anti-gas, anti-coal, anti-oil, anti-nuclear, anti-transformer, anti-backup generator, and even anti-restaurant and anti-concert hall.
“…Rand Acoustics provides consultations for the best possible faculty designs, ensuring that regulations are met for public safety, health and welfare is protected and complaints are prevented. Recommendations and opinions are carefully developed from years of power generation experience and acoustic investigations.
“…Due to materials and design challenges, sufficient distance is currently the only reliable noise control option for large, three-bladed wind turbines. Emotionally charged, unprofessional labels can polarize the public and regulators, and cool customer interest in professional services. Deliberate slander and libel can destroy future income.”
When questioned by Kevin Murphy of Winfield Township during public comment, Becker clarified what he meant when bringing the matter up at the previous Township Board meeting.
“I found new information out,” Becker said. “I was going to bring it back to the members of the Planning Commission with the new information that I found. And I did. I sent it out to everyone on the Planning Commission. That’s what I was trying to get at. Ann had said something that she had heard about Robert Rand and Kevon Martis in cahoots. She questioned it, that’s why she voted it down. I found out this other information and sent it to the rest of the Planning Commission. That’s why I talked to (Supervisor John Schwandt) before the meeting to see what I should do about it.”
Vicki Douglas of Maple Valley Township questioned what was meant by “cahoots.”
“I probably should have worded it better,” Becker responded. “It was just that I found information that there was both of them in the same write-up. That was the only thing I found.”
“You and I could be in the same write-up, because I bring my car to you,” Douglas pointed out (Becker owns Roger’s Repair in Coral).
The Planning Commission has not yet set a date for any meetings with the sound engineers. Jamie Snyder of Cato Township suggested seeing if both sound engineers could come on the same day and then seeing if surrounding township officials might also be willing to attend and split some of the costs, given that multiple township boards and planning commissions throughout Montcalm County are simultaneously discussing sound regulation as it relates to wind energy.
“That’d be up to the Township Board to decide that,” Commissioner Lee Frandsen replied. “We don’t have that authority here. We can bring it up. That would be a good idea.”
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