Pine Township Board tables wind ordinance, PC member publicly denounces wind developer, 2 men leave amid eventful meeting
Planning Commissioner Dan Main, a farmer, was blunt in getting to the point about his primary concern. “What I have concluded throughout this two-plus year process is that I do not trust them, and by them I mean Apex,” Main said. “I don’t trust what they say, I don’t trust what they do and I certainly do not trust what they say they’re going to do. Who would ever thought that in such a short amount of time an entity could come to our county and create such a divide? They are professionals and they know what works.”
PINE TOWNSHIP – The Pine Township Board voted to table their pending wind ordinance amendment during an eventful meeting Monday in which one man was ordered to leave after a vulgar outburst, another man walked out in frustration with the supervisor and a Planning Commission member publicly denounced a wind energy developer.
The township hall was packed in anticipation of a possible vote on the wind ordinance amendment, but the township board ended up voting to hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. on April 7 to discuss the amendment further with the Planning Commission and the township attorney.
The Planning Commission voted on Feb. 14 to recommend their wind amendment to the township board. The Montcalm County Planning Commission reviewed the proposed amendment on March 7, warning that it was too restrictive against wind turbine development.
‘I JUST DON’T TRUST THEM’
Planning Commissioner Dan Main, a farmer, requested to speak to share some thoughts about his work on the wind amendment.
“Before you consider the ordinance that our Planning Commission has drafted, I have a few things that I’d like to say that will hopefully provide some context as it pertains to my thoughts on how this wind project could affect our township and how that is reflected in the spirit of our ordinance,” Main said. “As you’ve seen and heard, the ordinance we drafted is a conservative one. There are parts of it that some may consider restrictive and I don’t disagree that there could be room for discussion on some of it. But for me the why is most important – why draft a protective ordinance, why err on the side of caution?”
Main said while there are many concerns about wind turbines, ranging from health and safety, liability, aesthetics and preservation of natural resources, many of those are somewhat subjective. He was blunt in getting to the point about his primary concern.
“What I have concluded throughout this two-plus year process is that I do not trust them, and by them I mean Apex,” Main said. “I don’t trust what they say, I don’t trust what they do and I certainly do not trust what they say they’re going to do. Who would ever thought that in such a short amount of time an entity could come to our county and create such a divide? They are professionals and they know what works.”
Main provided three examples of “why I have no trust in these people,” starting with an incident in January 2020, when he said he was contacted by a farmer colleague who had been meeting with Apex and who invited Main to a lease meeting. Main expressed interest in attending to share his opinion about the lease, so he contacted an Apex representative.
“His response was, ‘no, I’d rather you not be there. The discussion we’ll be having is proprietary to the group,’” Main recounted.
Main said his family was previously been contacted by Apex regarding singing a wind lease.
“Our response was ‘no thank you,’” Main said. “So the reason they didn’t want me there was because they felt they had a chance of getting this group of landowners signed up and they didn’t want me there with a differing opinion asking questions they didn’t want to have to answer. How does that build trust?”
Main’s second example is what he says has been “an ongoing ordeal” for more than a year in hearing from neighbors and colleagues that Main Farms was “all but signed up” for the wind project. Main said his family heard this claim from so many people, they began to investigate.
“We discovered that it was a (Apex) land agent that was responsible,” he said. “We didn’t know this man from Adam. And yet he has the gumption and lack of moral fiber to go around pulling our name and moral reputation – that we took generations to build – through the mud.”
Main said his family sent a cease and desist letter to Apex (something the Daily News previously covered in a May 11, 2021 story).
“Since that letter was sent, we’ve had at least two more instances where that same representative sold the same story – and one of them was to an employee of ours this winter,” Main said.
Main’s third example referenced a letter Apex’s Senior Development Manager Albert Jongewaard sent to township officials on Feb. 9 expressing disappointment in the recommended wind amendment. Main said he received this letter via his business email, which is not publicly listed with the township. He said he then began receiving multiple other emails from residents who were also voicing their concerns with the amendment.
The emails were “mostly verbatim,” Main said. “It was a coordinated effort put together by Apex, a corporation we had never even heard of three years ago.
“My distrust lies with Apex as a whole and specifically with the individuals (representatives) that are part of this project,” Main said. “I am not categorically against wind energy. It has its place. Is it for Pine Township? Maybe? But right now we have a specific wind developer with a specific project in mind and the details of that project are vague and only come to us in snippets. I believe it is in our township’s best interest to approach this with great caution. If some turbines come to the area and we find as a community that we can live with them, we can always amend our ordinance to where it would be easier to site more turbines. But based on the project manager’s response to our current drafted ordinance, he wants us to give him the keys and do with our township as he sees fit. I just can’t see where that’s going to be in the best interest of our township because I just don’t trust them.
“If some think this disqualifies me based on bias, I will unapologetically admit that my bias will always be for the preservation of this community and the fulfillment of our township’s community vision,” Main added. “Pine Township will be a community that is firmly committed to the preservation of its agricultural lands and natural beauty. We will strive to protect those qualities that define our community by managing new growth in a manner that is consistent with our community character, environmentally sensitive and economically sound.
“Now I may not trust Apex, but I trust this board and I trust the resiliency of this township. No matter how this goes, no matter how this turns out, we are going to carry on as a community,” he concluded.
Main’s comments received a long-standing ovation from many of those present but were then followed by an outburst from Joe Hansen of Stanton, who is known for yelling out comments during meetings. Hansen had yelled out at the start of Monday’s meeting and yelled out again after Main’s statement, this time using a vulgar term for Apex.
“That’s the last time. You’re out,” Supervisor Bill Drews told Hansen.
“Aw, (expletive),” Hansen responded.
“You’re out,” Drews repeated. “I don’t take that. You are out. This meeting will not continue until you leave.”
Hansen continue to protest until audience members themselves began asking Hansen to leave.
“See ya, sir,” Hansen finally told Drews, giving a sarcastic salute before he exited the township hall.
“I was met at the door by that man and intimidated before I was ever able to come back into the building,” Drews told the audience after Hansen left. “It won’t be tolerated.”
A Montcalm County sheriff’s deputy had been present earlier in the meeting but had to leave to respond to another incident.
‘LAMBASTED FOR ATTENDING’
Township board members then shared some of their thoughts on the wind ordinance process. Trustee Randy Robson began by opining that needed dialogue has been missing between the township board and the Planning Commission.
Trustee Tyler Nadeau, who is the township board’s liaison with the Planning Commission, responded by saying he wishes his fellow township board members would have attended more Planning Commission meetings – a statement that Drews, Robson and Clerk Marla Sprague were quick to defend themselves against.
“We were not there to create the chill factor that I was so blatantly accused of,” Drews said. “For that reason, I don’t see that we can blame any of our board members for not attending. I have attended on occasion but was lambasted for attending, so why would anyone else want to come?”
“I purposefully did not come because I did not want my opinion and vote skewed by a bunch of screaming and hollering,” Sprague added.
This comment resulted in a loud scoff from a woman who was sitting in the front row.
“I’m sorry, but that’s what I feel,” Sprague said. “People are screaming at each other, they’re disrespectful of each other and I did not want my opinion skewed by being mad, so I refused to come. I want to look at this fresh, I want to see the ordinance as it’s been written and ponder it without a bunch of ill feelings that I have from, you know, the adopting of it. So I purposefully did not come.”
“I would echo that too and the snicker, I don’t think is justified,” Robson told the woman. “Seriously. We were made to feel uncomfortable coming to it (Planning Commission meetings).”
The woman in the front row tried to speak but was cut off by township board members.
“If you can’t behave, I’ll ask you to leave,” Drews told her.
“To say that we would have been welcomed to a Planning Commission meeting by the audience is not fair,” Robson concluded.
Twice during Monday’s meeting, Drews referenced a letter he received from “a person who’s well respected by me” and told his fellow township board members he would make them a copy of the letter.
Near the end of the meeting, township resident Curt Simon asked why everyone couldn’t receive a copy of the letter.
“You want me to bore you with the reading of it here and now?” Drews asked.
“Yeah, sure,” Simon responded.
“We’re at the end of the meeting so if I guess if I throw you out for making any rude comments, I guess that’s fine,” Drews responded.
Drews then proceeded to read aloud the letter, which criticized the township’s proposed wind amendment (see Thursday’s Daily News for a story about the letter). Drews concluded reading the letter, at first not saying the name of who wrote it. Multiple residents asked for the name of the author.
“This person has served in public service for a long time and is now retired,” Drews prefaced his statement. “It’s Don Smucker.”
Smucker, a Stanton resident, is a land use educator who helped create Montcalm County’s General Plan. He is chairman of the Stanton Planning Commission, a longtime Michigan State University Extension director and the current director emeritus.
Some audience members burst into laughter at the announcement of Smucker’s name, leading to Drews to strike the table with his gavel and to point his finger at the audience, saying, “That’s enough.”
Simon jumped up from his seat at this and responded, “You quit pointing your damn finger, man! What is it with you?”
“I have to correct this meeting,” Drews responded.
“You do, but you don’t have to treat people like this,” Simon returned. “No one deserves to pointed at like they’re a little kid.”
“Time to sit down,” Drews told him.
“I’ll leave,” said a visibly frustrated Simon, who then walked out of the building.
The meeting then adjourned.
In other matters …
Also during Monday’s meeting, the Pine Township Board:
• Heard from Treasurer Kristen Diehl that she will not be running for election to her appointed partial term. The deadline to file to run for any township partial term or county Board of Commissioners or Road Commission seat is April 19.
• Voted to approve three applications of brine on all gravel roads in the township at a cost of nearly $20,000 to the Road Commission for Montcalm County. The township has about $95,000 remaining for additional road projects this year. Supervisor Bill Drews announced the township board also plans to pursue a road millage on the ballot in the near future.
• Voted to purchase flags for decorating the cemetery for Memorial Day at a cost not to exceed $700.
• Voted to have 16 old juniper and yew trees removed from the cemetery at a cost of $760 by Woodland Tree Services. The township also received three other bids which were $1,750, $1,900 and $5,300. Drews abstained from voting as he said he has “connections” to one bidder.
• Jamie Gorby reported on improvements taking place at White Pine District Library in Stanton. Requests for proposals (RFPs) are currently out for painting, fencing and drywall projects. The library will be hosting a book sale from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday (visit whitepinelibrary.org for more information).
• Discussed American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding projects for the township and complied a tentative plan of the following priorities: new flooring in the township hall, an electronic sign on M-91 advertising township hall meetings and other events, improving Farnsworth Park (including the addition of a porta-john this summer and autumn and possibly a Farmers Market), improved internet service for the township hall and possibly a pavilion. The board voted to have Clerk Marla Sprague submit their tentative plans to the federal government.
• Voted to increase election worker pay from the current $12 per hour to $15 per hour and from the current $15 per hour to $18 per hour for the election chairperson.
• Set a budget review meeting for 6 p.m. on April 21. The township board’s next regular meeting is 7 p.m. on April 11.
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