MAPLE VALLEY TOWNSHIP – A township where owners of nearly 10,000 acres of land are on board with a proposed wind energy project saw its proposed ordinance take a step forward last week.
The Maple Valley Township Planning Commission voted 5-1 to recommend its wind ordinance to the township board last Thursday. The Montcalm County Planning Commission will review the ordinance and offer feedback before it goes to the township board for a vote.
The proposed ordinance calls for a turbine height limit of 500 feet with setbacks of three times a turbine’s tip height from non-participating properties and one-mile setbacks from all lakes, noise limited to 45 db(A) Lmax at non-participating property lines or 55 db(A) Lmax at occupied buildings not located on non-participating lots, and zero shadow flicker on non-participating lots (with a waiver option for many of these items).
At least two letters were presented to the Planning Commission voicing concern about the wind ordinance before last Thursday’s vote.
Apex’s Senior Development Manager Albert Jongewaard sent an April 5 letter to express his concerns with Lmax sound measurements, setbacks from lakes and shadow flicker – all of which he said will make it impossible to build a wind energy project in the township.
“We believe common ground can be found and that compromise is possible,” Jongewaard wrote in the email accompanying his eight-page letter. “However, those objectives require two sides to be willing to talk and discuss facts and opinions in a civil and constructive manner, and it is my sincere and continued hope that we can find a way to have that type of conversation in Maple Valley Township and across Montcalm County.
“Please also note, there are nearly 10,000 acres of land in Maple Valley Township signed to the project,” he added. “Many of us believe this project is right for Maple Valley, Montcalm County and the state of Michigan, and I ask your consideration to make sure your rules are not so restrictive that they take away this opportunity for the future.”
A letter was also sent to the Planning Commission from 39 township residents and property owners who plan to participate in the project or support the development of wind energy. The letter voiced concerns with proposed turbine height limits, setbacks, noise, shadow flicker and reclamation requirements.
The seven-page letter was written by attorney Nicholas Schroeck of the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law – Environmental Law Clinic in Detroit. The letter was signed by Ashlyn and Kevin Newell, David Kraft, Ron Porter, Carrie and Kenneth Newell, Jeanne and Steven Paulsen, Paul Eickenroth, David and Vicky Brunges, Patricia Hadrich, Ted Rizor, Maureen and Marvin Jacquay, Michael Larsen, Duane Coalter, Ben and Cara Ferrell, Gerald and Marie Wilson, Joseph and Linda Tomasunas, William and Mary Roush, Doug and Barbara Mitchell, Bruce and Sally Law, Patty Fisk, Robert Pickel, James and Susan Jones, James and Wendy Baby, Harold Proctor, Todd and Kami Smith and Roger Betten Sr.
See the online version of this story for a copy of both letters.
OUTBURSTS ABOUT ‘BIG WIND’
Last Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting was chaotic. Residents repeatedly interrupted planners and criticized the township attorney. One planner was not even being sure what she was voting on. Chairman Roger Becker, Vice Chairman Dennis Delany, Secretary Andi Knapp and members Dennis Dombkowski, Lee Frandsen, Ann Petersen were all present, while member Michelle Germain was absent.
Previously, the Planning Commission at their March 10 meeting voted 4-3 to add Lmax sound requirements to the ordinance (with Delany, Frandsen, Germain and Knapp voting “yes” and Becker, Dombkowski and Petersen voting “no”) and voted 5-2 to change lake setbacks from half a mile to one mile (with Delany, Frandsen, Germain and Petersen voting “yes” and Becker and Dombkowski voting “no”).
During last Thursday’s meeting, Petersen said she didn’t mean to vote in favor of increasing lake setbacks at the March 10 meeting, adding that there was a “lot of chatter” during that meeting, as well as a call to adjourn – which she thought she was voting on.
Thursday’s meeting was plagued with a lot of chatter as well. Residents continually questioned the need for attorney Kyle O’Meara to be present.
“This is a very small community with limited resources,” resident Tyler Trierweiler said. “Why do we need a lawyer to say what you just said?”
“Why would you need an attorney that represents wind?” resident Gordon Bassett added.
“I don’t represent wind,” O’Meara responded.
“Yes, you do!” multiple people shouted.
“Well, we don’t represent a wind developer,” O’Meara said.
“I would hope that when this is all done, you would not ask Kyle for his opinion,” resident Penny Bassett said. “You guys are the ones that are supposed to write this – not Kyle.”
“I’m trying to figure out why we’re paying you (the attorney) so much money to explain what we’ve been doing for two years,” Trierweiler reiterated.
Public comments were offered both for and against the proposed ordinance and the wind energy project in general. The meeting featured multiple interruptions and chaos to the point where planners couldn’t be heard speaking. At one point, Cato Township resident Jeremy Kwekel jumped up and yelled, “How many people are against this project and want a restrictive ordinance and want Big Wind to leave and want Kyle to go home?” resulting in multiple people standing up and loudly applauding and cheering.
“I think if we get any more outbursts, it’s going to end public comment,” Becker said (a Montcalm County sheriff’s deputy was present).
Pam Hemmes of Montcalm Township referred to the Montcalm County Planning Commission’s recent review of Belvidere Township’s proposed wind ordinance. John Johansen of Montcalm Township, a longtime member of the county Planning Commission and a former longtime county commissioner, recommended that Belvidere Township change its turbine setback and shadow flicker language, among other items.
“Those people know nothing, very little,” Hemmes said of the county Planning Commission. “Our township officials know more. The county commissioners know very little. It’s just a technicality that they can do that (review proposed township ordinances). Their recommendations hold very little water because they are really not very well educated about it. There is one from our township in particular who is very pro-wind (Johansen) and he makes that very, very clear.”
‘THERE HAS TO BE SOME GIVE AND TAKE’
Petersen read a lengthy statement saying she has tried to understand both sides of the issue, even as some people have been “disrespectful” and bordering on “threatening.”
“We are not making an ordinance for Apex,” she noted. “We are making an ordinance for industrial wind turbines. By the same token … we are not writing an ordinance just for the lake people. It’s not an easy task and I sure don’t want to get this wrong and be sorry in the future. I sure don’t want restrictions so tight that it blocks any business ventures from being sought in this township. What are we to do? We can’t make a restrictive ordinance. There has to be some give and take and I do believe that is one of the definitions of compromise. Compromise has to come from both sides of an issue. Please remember that we up here are doing the best we can for everyone, not just the ones who yell the loudest at us.”
Dombkowski also made a statement, beginning by saying that he’s tried to remain neutral on the wind topic – a comment which resulted in laughter from some audience members.
“You’re out of order,” Dombkowski said. “I have the floor now and I’d appreciate some respect on my part too. What happened during the special meeting here, in my opinion, is a flagrant violation of the Open Meetings Act.”
Dombkowski attempted to continue speaking to voice his concern about proposed lake setbacks, noting, “There’s virtually not one 10-square-foot piece of property in Maple Valley Township where you can place one of these things at the present time the way this is written.”
This comment resulted in loud applause from some audience members, who don’t want to see any turbines – period.
“Please! I asked for some respect,” Dombkowski declared. “This ordinance is for all people in Maple Valley Township, not just the ones who scream the loudest and make false accusations about the people on this commission.”
O’Meara also provided some comments as the township’s attorney, saying, “Some provisions that are in an ordinance like this one would essentially prohibit anyone from building a turbine.”
Becker asked if the Lmax sound language makes the ordinance exclusionary.
“I have not see a turbine built in a community that adopts an Lmax standard,” O’Meara answered. “It is typically used to make sure that you do not have turbines in your township.”
“He’s a biased attorney!” Trierweiler yelled out.
Audience interruptions persisted to the point where Becker begged, “Let’s get back on track here. We’re trying to get an understanding of all this.”
“No, you’re not,” multiple men and women yelled.
“Y’all complain because we’re paying a lawyer and now you’re wasting his time so we’re paying him to listen to your complaints,” Petersen retorted.
Knapp then made a motion to recommend the ordinance to the township board after it’s reviewed by the county Planning Commission “and let them figure it out,” Knapp said.
In response to a request from township resident Vikki Douglass, Frandsen asked Knapp to amend her motion to add “avian detection system” language to the ordinance to protect birds, which Knapp did, even though O’Meara noted, “I will say, I don’t know if that’s something turbines actually use.”
The motion to recommend the ordinance to the township board passed 5-1 with Becker voting “no.”
Petersen then said she thought they were voting on avian detection system language and not on the ordinance itself. Petersen made a motion to reconsider sending the ordinance to the township board, but her motion died due to no support.
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