Montcalm County Planning Commission praises Winfield Township wind ordinance, recommends changes to Maple Valley Township ordinance
Leslie Rydahl of Pine Township also addressed Johansen. “There are a lot of people within Montcalm County that do not want to see our county end up like Gratiot or Isabella counties,” Rydahl said. “Mr. Johansen is simply reiterating the Apex preferred wind ordinance. I think what you’re failing to recognize is that you have a lot of people in your county who don’t want these at all. I understand a couple of you gentlemen are really, really for this project and there are a lot of people in Montcalm County who are taking offense to that.
STANTON – Members of the Montcalm County Planning Commission praised a wind energy ordinance drafted for Winfield Township, even though a voter referendum effort will likely begin the moment the ordinance is approved.
The county Planning Commission, which met on Monday to review draft wind ordinances for both Winfield and Maple Valley townships, reviews township ordinances in an advisory capacity only and provides feedback to those townships.
County Planning Commissioner John Johansen voiced his approval of Winfield Township’s lack of a turbine height limit (which he says will allow for the latest turbine technology); the noise limit of 55 decibels Leq 10 minute for participating parties and 45 decibels Leq 10 minute from the exterior of habitual structures of non-participating properties (which he called “reasonable and consistent with established science”); setbacks of 1.5 times a turbine’s tip height from non-participating property lines; and no more than 30 hours per year of shadow flicker on habitable structures (which he says is a “well-established industry standard”).
“I want to compliment Winfield Township,” Johansen said. “I’ve reviewed a lot of ordinances in the last 10 years. This is the most accommodating, non-restrictive ordinance. I think (the Winfield Township Planning Commission) spent a lot of time on this ordinance and for me, it’s the best-written ordinance that we’ve had the privilege of reviewing here at the Montcalm County Planning Commission.”
County Planning Commissioner Michael Beach, who is also a county commissioner, also complimented Winfield’s lack of a height limit, noting that language is included saying turbines must comply with the Michigan Tall Structures Act.
“That gives really pretty open and flexible values and stuff to whether it be Apex (Clean Energy) or whoever it is to work with, and for the area,” Beach said. “Really good flexibility here in Winfield and I’m real pleased to see this ordinance also.”
County Planning Commissioner Chris Marks recommended that Winfield Township’s turbine setbacks for participating properties be from property lines, not habitable structures. He also recommended that the township have a copy of a turbine safety manual on file for the specific model of turbine being used.
County Planning Commission Chairman S. Michael Scott said he asked Don Smucker to review the Winfield and Maple Valley township wind ordinances to assist him. Smucker is not on the county Planning Commission but is chairman of the Stanton Planning Commission, as well as a land use educator who helped create the county’s general plan.
“He’s probably one of the best land use people we’ve got in the county,” Scott noted.
In Smucker’s written comments, he complimented both townships for their research and work on the ordinances and he noted “the challenging process of going through audience opinions and comments.”
“What you have produced, I feel, is a detailed and specific special land use process that defines conditions that can result in the actual siting of wind turbines in your townships while still dealing restrictively with issues of concern that have been raised in your communities,” Smucker wrote regarding both townships. “That, in my opinion, is what Planning Commissions are supposed to do.”
Smucker did voice concern about Maple Valley’s proposed avian detection system language (questioning whether it’s practical and workable and asking where it has actually been used). He also suggested Maple Valley remove “Lmax” from its sound language (which he said is more restrictive than necessary) and add “Leq 10 minute” language instead. He also noted Maple Valley’s proposed 500-foot height limit for turbines, saying this restriction will likely result in more turbines.
Johansen also recommended that Maple Valley remove Lmax sound language from its ordinance.
“This is the first time that I’ve seen any ordinance that has the Lmax in it,” Johansen said. “It’s over-restrictive and almost impossible. I don’t know if that was done intentionally so that you don’t have any opportunity to have turbines.”
Johansen also recommended Maple Valley change its shadow flicker language to from “occupied buildings” instead of from non-participating property lines, said the proposed three times tip height setback for non-participating properties is “excessive and reduces the buildable area,” said the proposed decommissioning requirement of removing all materials less than 6 feet underground including transmission lines at 4 feet is “unnecessary,” and said a turbine height limit will likely result in more turbines. He also said that lake setbacks of one mile for turbines “pretty much rules out construction of any turbines. It’s very restrictive.
“Remember, you’ve got a six-mile square area,” Johansen said of Maple Valley Township. “You might as well start your first paragraph of your ordinance by saying ‘we’re not going to allow wind turbines’ because that’s what you’re doing when you make it that restrictive.”
Beach noted last week’s Montcalm Economic Alliance meeting at which Apex Clean Energy officials announced the results of an Upjohn Institute economic impact study on Apex’s proposed Montcalm Wind project.
“Apex is saying they’re going to have turbines that are going to be 5 megawatt,” Beach noted. “Five-megawatt turbines are big turbines. The ones in Gratiot County are running 2.5 (megawatts). You look at the height requirement that’s going to be needed for 5 megawatt turbines. (Maple Valley is) saying 500 feet here – that isn’t going to cut it, not with those big turbines having to generate that much power. I have some concerns on that, it looks like it’s a little restrictive in that area.”
TOWNSHIP PC FEEDBACK
Two members of the Maple Valley Township Planning Commission were present Monday – Dennis Delany and Ann Scoby Petersen – while no members of the Winfield Township Planning Commission were present.
“Thank you so much for your comments,” Petersen told the county Planning Commission. “This helps a lot for when we go back to adjust it. Several things I agree with, probably almost everything. Also, I’m not sure if you’re aware but turbines can be recycled. They grind them up and they’re put into whatever it is to make the roads. I think that’s great because that is a concern if they have to go into a landfill, which they did years ago, but they don’t now.”
Apex’s Senior Development Manager Albert Jongewaard said at last week’s Montcalm Economic Alliance meeting that turbine blades aren’t currently recyclable, although he hopes the blades of the future will be.
Maple Valley Township resident Steven Poulsen, who has signed a lease with Apex, referenced his township’s Lmax language and turbine setbacks from lakes, saying, “That was very much done intentionally to make it restrictive. It wasn’t unanimous, but it was intentional.”
Delany, the vice chairman of the Maple Valley Township Planning Commission, contested this claim.
“I’d like to dispute that, that it was not an intentional thing at that meeting,” Delany said. “It was brought up by our PC supervisor to have a meeting to pass the ordinance quote ‘in his terms’ so that it could be referendumed.
“The majority of our residents, based on our straw polls, would like some restrictions on these and would like to limit the height and the setbacks,” Delany added. “We are concerned about the health, safety and welfare of all the citizens of Maple Valley. We look forward to what happens as it comes back to our commission.”
Douglass Township resident Keith Phelps also referenced Maple Valley’s Lmax sound language.
“The Lmax is absolutely not doable,” Phelps said. “My daughter (Tammy Sweeris) is on the Planning Commission with Douglass Township, she deals with sound attorneys and sound engineers and her report back from people who have the experience with Lmax – they do not know of a single project that went forward.
“You guys are talking at about 60 decibels,” he added to the county Planning Commission. “How many could hear you at about 1,000 feet away? That’s common sense.”
‘WE FEEL LIKE WE’VE BEEN BETRAYED’
Kevin Murphy of Winfield Township addressed Johansen’s comments about Winfield having “the best” ordinance.
“Wow. You think we have a really wonderful ordinance?” Murphy said. “The reason why we have a ‘wonderful’ ordinance is we have eight members of our PC that have either signed, leased or have family members that have (leased with Apex). To have no height limit? That’s absolutely absurd. The only reason why we have such a ‘marvelous’ ordinance is the greed, the farmers that are going to gain from it. Nobody wants them in the township other than the ones that have signed. Mr. (Chris) Rader, the president of our Planning Commission, has signed. (Planning Commissioner) Dale Ulrich signed. (Planning Commissioner and Winfield Township Board Trustee) John Black, we’re not really sure, but his wife wears a blue shirt (in support of the Montcalm Wind project) and went around to all the meetings until he finally told her to cool it a little bit, I think. (Winfield Township Supervisor) Phylis Larson, she signed a lease.”
Leslie Rydahl of Pine Township also addressed Johansen.
“There are a lot of people within Montcalm County that do not want to see our county end up like Gratiot or Isabella counties,” Rydahl said. “Mr. Johansen is simply reiterating the Apex preferred wind ordinance. I think what you’re failing to recognize is that you have a lot of people in your county who don’t want these at all. I understand a couple of you gentlemen are really, really for this project and there are a lot of people in Montcalm County who are taking offense to that.
“We feel that at the county level … you simply want this project in come hell or high water,” she said. “It makes the average citizen very frustrated that we are fighting our township boards, our PCs. It’s been very, very hard for the citizens to have any voice. As you can read from the newspaper, yes, we are passionate, we are heated, because we feel like we’ve been betrayed. In Pine Township we did get a good ordinance, but boy, it was an uphill battle. The county is, for lack of a better word, maybe pressuring and strong-arming some of the township officials. I’m very disappointed.
“The Winfield ordinance is horrible,” she continued. “Their citizens are up in arms over it. We come to meeting after meeting after meeting and it falls on deaf ears. And you’re just sitting by giving your nod of approval and you’re setting townships up for referendums and recalls because you’re giving your stamp of approval on an ordinance that the people are very disappointed in.
“And Don Smucker, I know at one time, was very well respected in the community, but now he wants wind in here, come – I’ve already said it, I won’t say it again,” Rydahl concluded.
In response, Johansen noted that members of the county Planning Commission are trained and their job is to help townships.
“We’re here to review the ordinances that are presented to us and try to point out whether they are so restrictive that it’s prohibitive and what points they might want to change to not have as much restriction as they have,” Johansen said. “I have tried to look at this from the viewpoint of the townships, how much money do you want to spend to defend if the company decides that they want to build and they start taking you through the court process.
“We don’t know where it’s going to end up,” he said. “If Apex makes the decision (to build in Montcalm County), they’re going to select some place and they’re going to start with the ZBAs (township Zoning Boards of Appeals). If they get turned down when they make the application, then they’ll work it through the court system.”
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