“From what our commission has seen and heard over the past year and a half, the majority of taxpayers don’t seem to want the huge industrial machines scatted throughout the township, and I can’t say that I blame them. We are and have always been a rural agricultural community, not a rural industrial community,” Cato Township Planning Commissioner Brandi Clark Hubbard [told] the Montcalm County Planning Commission regarding her township’s proposed wind energy ordinance. Clark Hubbard was the only member of a local township Planning Commission to attend Monday’s meeting.
STANTON – Some members of the Montcalm County Planning Commission are growing weary of reviewing draft township ordinances and hearing public comment on the matter – if indeed a township even bothers to provide them with a draft in the first place.
The ongoing wind and solar controversy appear to have become the final straw for county planners, but the issue goes back even further and stems from a lack of participation from some townships.
The county Planning Commission met on Monday to review proposed wind energy ordinances from Cato Township and Douglass Township, as well as to review an updated joint master plan from the village of Howard City and Reynolds Township.
The majority of the county Planning Commission didn’t comment on the ordinances and indeed seemed to be making a concentrated effort to steer clear of the wind wrangling in Montcalm County. Planners also voiced concern about some townships that don’t even bother to include the county in reviewing draft ordinances.
“I am concerned about the article that was in the (May 7) Daily News about Richland Township,” said Michael Beach of Carson City, who is both a county commissioner and a county planner. “Are they going to present their proposed ordinance that has passed to this commission here?”
“We don’t know,” admitted Planning Commission Chairman S. Michael Scott of Howard City.
While the county Planning Commission requests that townships provide them with draft ordinances in an advisory capacity before township boards vote on them, Richland Township skipped this step with its recently approved wind ordinance.
“The county doesn’t have a wind ordinance but they’re going to make recommendations to us? Ours has been approved by two different lawyers. It (a county review) wasn’t a showstopper for us,” Richland Township Supervisor Jody Penrod previously told the Daily News.
In light of some townships declining to include the county in ordinance review, as well as the ongoing wind debate, Scott told his fellow planners on Monday that they do have the option of passing a resolution to bow out of township ordinance review altogether.
“I am very disillusioned,” admitted Scott, speaking candidly. “Six years ago when we heard about wind coming as a possibility, two or three (wind) companies that were looking around here, we went to the townships and asked them to get together and write a common ordinance for the whole county. That didn’t happen. Everybody went off on their own. This is why we’re getting six or seven variations of zoning ordinances on wind that are not uniform.
“I’d just as soon not get involved in it, personally,” he said. “I’m to the point where when we send our stuff back to the townships, and I think only two or three of the things that we’ve sent back have been used, so really our afternoon here with you folks has just been another step in the process that the state set forward for us to do that may not be necessary.”
John Johansen of Montcalm Township, who has historically provided the most feedback on township wind ordinances, voiced concerns with both draft ordinances for Cato and Douglass townships.
Regarding the Douglass Township draft, Johansen said, “Ten pages on noise and sound seems excessive to me. It also includes Lmax (sound language), which is restrictive. The 500-foot height (limit for turbines) may not be restrictive, but it’s not in line with today’s technology and farmland protection. I would suggest that they reconsider the non-participating parcel setback of 1,500 feet from the property line, which again seems excessive.”
Chris Mark of Pine Township was the only other planner who commented at length on the Douglass Township draft, saying, “It seems like a lot of effort went into creating the illusion that they’re trying to protect the character of the township. Seeing as how Apex works, if they have a lease, that’s going to override everything, so I’m a little skeptical about that.”
Regarding the Cato Township draft, Johansen voiced concern with the minimum 1.5-mile turbine setback from lakes, streams and wetlands; the height limit of 400 feet for turbines; the requirement to bury power lines at a depth of at least 10 feet; as well as noise compliance and shadow flicker requirements.
“My opinion in reviewing his ordinance is that it is far too broad, restrictive and borders on being exclusionary,” Johansen said. “To me, this ordinance appears to be designed to prevent the installation of wind turbines in Cato Township.”
“How is this going to be reflected in the minutes – as John’s opinion, or the board’s opinion?” Mark asked in response.
“Well, it’s up to the board whether to call for a vote or not,” Scott responded.
No one made a motion for a vote on Johansen’s comments. The Planning Commission only voted to send their feedback to the two townships in question.
Scott didn’t comment specifically on either ordinance but shared an overall comment about the process.
“We’ve looked at quite a few of these,” he noted. “They keep coming back. Some have fairly restrictive things and some don’t. I think it’s important that this board points out what they feel. I also think that these townships have spent a lot of time and money in an effort to establish these ordinances. They’ve used attorneys and planners and so on. In the end, it’s up to the townships. A lot of townships spent a lot of money on this and I’d hate to see them end up in court. That’s my comment.”
APEX COOKOUT & CONVERSATION
Johansen came under fire from residents on Monday for being listed as a “special guest” at an upcoming Apex Clean Energy “cookout and conversational meeting.” Montcalm County Board of Commissioners Chairman Patrick Q. Carr of Cato Township, who was not present, was also criticized by some residents.
The topic was broached when Lynne Bowen of Cato Township referenced an invitation mailed out to some residents regarding what she called “a Montcalm Wind picnic and cookout and meeting.”
The event is scheduled for 6 p.m. on July 6 at the Johnson home on McBride Road in Lakeview and is listed as “A cookout and conversational meeting,” according to the invitation.
“We would like to gather with our neighbors to discuss the community benefits of the Montcalm Wind project and how your participation can impact the project,” the invitation states. “Special guests will include Pat Carr, former Pine Township supervisor Ed Hansen, County Planning Commission member John Johansen, Del Christensen, (Stanton Planning Commission Chairman) Don Smucker and Montcalm Wind Senior Project Development Manager Albert Jongewaard.”
“It’s pretty clear that some members are leaning, I’d say, in a direction if not already drunk from the Kool-Aid,” Bowen said. “I think this is unethical. I think that anybody that’s on a board that’s voting for a community ordinance or a township ordinance should not be publicly be going out and being special guests for the opposition, so to speak. It’s clearly biased and unethical.”
Jeremy Kwekel of Cato Township asked Johansen if he has signed a lease with Apex. Johansen, who has previously publicly stated that he has not signed a lease, reiterated this point again on Monday, adding, “I have no opportunity.”
“You’re the only name on there (the invitation) that isn’t getting payments from Apex, so I’m wondering why you’re the special guest,” Kwekel responded.
“The other familiar name is Pat Carr,” Kwekel continued. “If someone came up to you and offered you $10 million to skew a vote or to make a decision on something, we would all say that’s bribery, that might even be criminal. I don’t even think there would be a huge debate on it until we get to green energy. I keep hearing from more and more leasers that it was Pat Carr who got them signed up. For some reason, it’s Pat Carr. I question why the county commissioner is selling leases.
“This isn’t a benefit for the community, it’s a benefit for a small few,” Kwekel said. “I’m surprised we are still talking about this. It’s pretty obvious the community doesn’t want it. If anybody is getting information from Pat Carr, I would question where you are getting that information. Follow the money. I would question anybody who is making big bucks on this.”
Larry and Laura Engel of Douglass Township were the only residents to speak in support of the wind project. The couple have signed a lease with Apex and Larry’s family has farmed in Douglass and Sidney townships for more than 100 years.
“I feel I’m sort of representing the ‘greedy farmers’ of Montcalm County since Pat isn’t here to defend himself,” Laura noted with sarcasm. “Most of the information about health, safety and welfare (regarding turbines) has been disproved, as well as the fact that property values are going to go down the toilet – that has pretty much been disproved too in other communities the turbines are in. Really what it boils down to is they don’t want to experience the ‘pain and suffering’ of looking out their windows and seeing a turbine. When you think about that, you have to ask yourself who’s being selfish and who’s being greedy?”
When public comment had concluded, Scott responded to some of the statements made by residents.
“Some of the comments that were made, and I appreciate all of your comments and I do listen to them, but the comments made about people making money off of them (turbines) – remember, Pat Carr and the county board and this board are not going to decide on those ordinances whether it’s one way or the other,” Scott noted. “That’s up to the townships. If he lives in a township, he has the same rights as anyone else to lease anything out. For him to use his position with the county isn’t going to make any difference at all, in my mind.”
In response to this, Kwekel noted that Carr is a representative of the county and suggested that Carr is also a friend or co-worker with those on the Montcalm County Planning Commission.
“I’ve never met Pat Carr,” responded Vice Chairman Chuck Hill, who works as a mental health coordinator for EightCAP Inc.
“Nor have I,” added Daniel Brant, who works as the associate superintendent of special education for the Montcalm Area Intermediate School District.
“Can we adjourn?” Johansen interjected.
The meeting then adjourned.
When contacted by the Daily News, Carr declined comment for this article. Carr, a farmer, has signed leases with Apex for the planned wind project and he has also spoken publicly in support of the wind project and the economic benefits he believes it would bring to the county as a whole.
In Monday’s audience of 16 residents, Cato Township Planning Commission member Brandi Clark Hubbard was the only planning commissioner present from Cato or Douglass townships.
“I respectfully disagree with several (comments) that have been made,” she told Johansen during public comment. “This proposed ordinance … is what we feel is right for our township after hours and hours of thoughts, research and consideration.
“We have something very unique in Cato Township, as we do throughout all of Montcalm County,” she continued. “From what our commission has seen and heard over the past year and a half, the majority of taxpayers don’t seem to want the huge industrial machines scattered throughout the township, and I can’t say that I blame them. We are and have always been a rural agricultural community, not a rural industrial community. There are very few places to safely site these industrial-sized turbines in Cato Township.”
Jamie Snyder of Cato Township noted that she previously sent a Freedom of Information Act request to Cato Township to view Apex’s written comments to that township.
“Mr. Johansen, you’ve pretty much just read verbatim their recommendations,” Snyder said. “This ordinance is not written for Apex. This ordinance is written for us to help prevent anybody who hasn’t leased the opportunity to keep the integrity of their property. We have amazing planning commissioners who put in hours and hours of research. We don’t need to write an ordinance for Apex – we need to write one for the citizens.”
Sheila Crooks of Douglass Township referenced a pending recall effort in her township against three members of that township’s board in response to the wind ordinance.
“You guys just made it way worse,” she told the county Planning Commission. “If they take up your suggestions, which I think they will because I think they’re already going to, it makes us much easier – that’s why we’re recalling because we’re not being listened to. We’re being treated like we don’t exist.”
[rest of article available at source]
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