The Maple Valley Township Board in a 4-1 vote on June 13 approved a wind energy ordinance, which will almost certainly go to a voter referendum even as the township supervisor is facing a recall and is also headed to trial for an alleged violation of the Open Meetings Act.
The vote came during yet another chaotic meeting in which the longtime treasurer resigned and the supervisor’s wife was appointed to the position. Meanwhile, a township resident and the zoning administrator got into a shouting match that spilled outside into the parking lot.
Members of the sizable audience present were obviously divided on zoning issues as well, with one side wearing blue in support of Apex Clean Energy’s proposed Montcalm Wind project, while opponents of wind turbine plans wore black and white.
WIND ORDINANCE VOTE
The township board’s vote to approve a wind ordinance (the new ordinance is published on Page 4 of today’s Daily News) came after a board member, who has signed a property lease with Apex, made multiple changes to the ordinance after it was submitted by the Planning Commission.
Trustee Ben Newell previously abstained from voting on a motion to rescind a previously approved wind ordinance in March 2021, due to his property lease with Apex. However, at the June 13 meeting, Newell made a motion to make multiple changes to the new ordinance, as follows:
• Remove avian detection system language, which previously stated, “An avian sensor must be installed on each turbine to monitor and mitigate impacts to airborne wildlife, such as bats and birds; or alternatively, a continuously operating system may be installed in the wind energy facility.”
• Change turbine ordinance sound language by removing “lmax” and adding “leq 10 minute” to the sound limits of 45 decibels from non-participating property lines and 55 decibels from occupied buildings not located on non-participating lots.
• Change language about turbine setbacks from lakes to state that turbines be at least a minimum of one mile from the edge of Muskellunge, Cowden, Coady, Rainbow, Maston and Winfield lakes as measured by the high water mark in the township. The previous draft ordinance language stated that turbines must be located at least a minimum of one mile from the back property line surrounding lakes. Newell’s motion added Maston Lake to the ordinance and removed the following lakes from the ordinance: Rocky, Barnard, Picnic, Black, Cranberry, Spruce, Mahaney, Ward and Mosquito lakes.
• Change the minimum ground clearance requirements for turbines from 100 feet to 75 feet.
The board voted 4-1 to approve Newell’s proposed changes and also voted 4-1 to approve the wind ordinance and to send the final version to their attorney for review. Supervisor John Schwandt, Clerk Cathy Benson, newly appointed Treasurer Marianne Schwandt and Newell all voted “yes” on both motions, while Trustee Lee Frandsen (who is a member of the Planning Commission which worked to create the ordinance) voted “no.”
In the new ordinance, wind turbines are limited to 500 feet tall with setbacks of 1.5 times the tip height from an occupied building not located on a non-participating property; no less than 400 feet or 1.5 times the tip height from public roads (whichever is greater); and three times the tip height from a non-participating property line.
Two of Newell’s changes to the wind ordinance were the same changes recommended by some members of the Montcalm County Planning Commission which reviewed the ordinance in May.
County Planning Commissioner John Johansen in May recommended that the township remove “lmax” from its sound language, calling it “over-restrictive and almost impossible.” Chairman S. Michael Scott also shared comments in May from Stanton Planning Commission Chairman Don Smucker (who is not a member of the county Planning Commission) regarding the township’s wind ordinance. Smucker recommended the township remove “lmax” language and replace it with “leq 10 minute” language. He also suggested the township remove the avian detection system language.
Also during the township board’s June 13 meeting, John Schwandt read a resignation letter from Treasurer June Miller effective May 31 with no reason given. Miller was absent from February’s regular meeting, March’s annual meeting and both the April and May regular meetings and residents have voiced complaints about how she handles tax payments.
After reading Miller’s resignation letter, John Schwandt looked at Benson, who then made a motion to appoint John’s wife Marianne Schwandt as treasurer (Marianne was previously appointed deputy treasurer at the May meeting). Benson’s motion was greeted with groans and scoffs from some audience members (“Quiet!” John told them). The motion passed 3-1 with Frandsen voting “no.” Marianne did not vote on the motion.
PLANNING COMMISSION VACANCY
John Schwandt was expected to appoint someone to the township’s Planning Commission at the June 13 meeting after Michelle Germain resigned, however, “Today at the last minute they backed out on me because they don’t want to put up with all the controversies,” John said.
John said he hopes to appoint someone at July’s regular meeting.
Also during the meeting, Planning Commission Chairman Roger Becker asked the township board to place a moratorium on wind and solar energy “for a couple years” so planners could review their zoning book. The township board didn’t take an action on the request.
The public comment portion of the June 13 meeting was chaotic on multiple levels and at one point went out of control when resident Bill Truss (a former township board member) questioned whether Zoning Administrator David Kelsey was inspecting local sawmills as he is required to do every year.
“I guarantee there has been no inspection of them in the last two and a half years,” Truss declared. “There’s a July inspection required. They’re not supposed to have logs within so many feet. They’re violating that. They’ve got a huge pile of sawdust and wood chunks, which is a violation.”
“The sawmills have been inspected. That’s just another lie he’s making up,” responded Kelsey who was seated in the back row.
“It’s not a lie, it’s the absolute truth,” Truss retorted.
A shouting match then ensued between the two men.
“Liar!” Kelsey declared at one point.
Truss then walked toward Kelsey and Kelsey waved for him to go outside. The two men stormed out to the parking lot of the Maple Valley Township Complex with several other audience members running after them, including John Schwandt.
The meeting remained out of order for several minutes before Kelsey returned inside, eventually followed by Schwandt, who then called the meeting back to order.
Regarding the now-approved wind ordinance, some audience members complimented the township board for their vote, while others expressed disappointment and outrage.
“I’d like to thank the board for having the courage and the fortitude to act in the way that you did,” township resident Roger Betten Sr. said.
“I’m sorry that you have to be demeaned by people that you have worked hard for,” said township resident Jeanne Poulsen (who was drowned out by laughter and scoffing). “You have tried to do the right thing. We do appreciate you.”
Planning Commission Vice Chairman Dennis Delany, who helped create the ordinance, expressed dismay with Newell at the changes he made to the final version.
“Ben, I don’t know why you didn’t just have Apex Albert (Jongewaard) read the letter that he sent to you guys with all of those changes,” Delany declared. “That’s what you did here, in response to Apex. That was an Apex letter that you read to this room here today. It’s not fair to the people who live here. You should be ashamed for what you’ve done to this township.”
“My husband got on the Planning Commission to stand for our people,” added Delany’s wife, Pat Delany. “He has done a tremendous amount of research. The Planning Commission put together an ordinance that they proposed to you. And within two minutes’ time this evening, you undid all the months of planning that they put into it. I am so ashamed to be a part of this township. I am so disappointed. I am ready to put my home up for sale. How can you vote on this when you have money and leases? How is that possible? I just can’t comprehend anything.”
Robert Scott of Sidney Township noted the township board previously adopted a wind-friendly ordinance in November 2020, only to rescind it in March 2021. He questioned why they were repeating history and expecting a different outcome.
“They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again,” Scott said. “You cannot expect a different result. It’s going to go to a referendum. You’ve wasted everybody’s time for the last year and a half. It’s shameful, but what’s more shameful is Mr. Newell. Not only has he signed a lease, but his family has signed leases that cover almost 1,700 acres of your township. His leases would be worth zero if you hadn’t done what you did tonight. Don’t tell me that’s not a conflict of interest. In what universe is that not a conflict of interest? Shame on all of you.”
Jongewaard, the senior project manager for Apex’s Montcalm Wind project, was present and he shared an equalization report from Gratiot County, which has many wind turbines.
“Property values have increased,” Jongewaard said, a statement which was greeted by laughter and scoffing from some.
“There’s facts and there’s hearsay,” Jongewaard continued. “This is a fact. Property values have continued to go up not only in Gratiot County but also across the state and the country where wind turbines are located.”
OLD BUS GARAGE
Also at the June 13 meeting, the township board voted to place the old school bus garage in Trufant up for bid.
The Daily News previously wrote about the old garage in March after questions were raised about the township’s vague process of renting it out as a storage facility
The 40-by-76-foot building is located on .21 acres on First Street with three garage doors that are 12-by-12-foot in size. The building has a sand floor, two service doors, a power supply but no water.
Bids may be sent to Maple Valley Township, PO Box 56, Coral, MI 49322 with “bus garage bids” printed in the lower-left corner of the envelope.
Bids will be opened at the July 11 meeting of the township board. The winning bidder will have seven days from the time of notification to place 10% down with the remaining balance due within 30 days.
Anyone wanting more information may contact John Schwandt at (231) 349-1943.
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