Monday’s vote resulted in anger, frustration and disappointment from the majority of the at least 60 people present who were squeezed into the Lakeview Village Office across the street from the Lakeview Community Center where the Cato Township Board typically meets. The different location was a poor choice for Monday’s meeting, as the Village Council chamber room is cozy and resulted in a standing room only with some people forced to try to listen to the meeting from the hallway and lobby outside. Before the vote, four Planning Commission members — including Behrenwald who sits on the PC — begged the township board to approve the ordinance as written, as did the majority of residents present. Jeremy Kwekel of Cato Township asked for a show of hands from those who support Apex’s Montcalm Wind project. Only four of the more than 60 people present raised their hands.
CATO TOWNSHIP – As the Cato Township Board prepared to finally vote on a wind energy ordinance Monday evening, Clerk Todd Lincoln said he wanted to make “just a little bit of change” to the ordinance as drafted by the township’s Planning Commission.
Those changes turned out to be major for many residents who are concerned with Apex Clean Energy’s proposed Montcalm Wind project for multiple townships in Montcalm County.
Lincoln made a motion to change the wind turbine height limit from 400 feet to 500 feet; to change turbine setbacks from four times the tip height to 1.5 times the tip height from roads and from 1.5 miles to a quarter-mile from minor lakes and streams (setbacks remain at 1.5 miles from the township’s four major lakes as well as for wetlands 10 acres or larger according to a newly approved amendment); and to change turbine sound limits from Lmax to Leq 10 minute average (50 decibels at a property line, and 45 decibels from an occupied structure for non-participating properties).
Lincoln’s motion passed 3-2 with Lincoln, Supervisor Larry Gilbert and Trustee Jourdan Lindsay voting “yes” and Treasurer Joyce Grieser and Trustee Dave Behrenwald voting “no.” While the township’s Planning Commission has gone to great pains to explain their research and why they wrote the draft ordinance the way they did, Lincoln declined to explain his reasoning for making the changes.
The Montcalm County Planning Commission previously reviewed the draft in an advisory capacity in June and John Johansen was the only county official to make any substantive comments on it – voicing concern with the 1.5-mile setback from lakes, streams and wetlands; the height limit of 400 feet; and noise compliance language.
Monday’s vote resulted in anger, frustration and disappointment from the majority of the at least 60 people present who were squeezed into the Lakeview Village Office across the street from the Lakeview Community Center where the Cato Township Board typically meets. The different location was a poor choice for Monday’s meeting, as the Village Council chamber room is cozy and resulted in a standing room only with some people forced to try to listen to the meeting from the hallway and lobby outside.
Before the vote, four Planning Commission members – including Behrenwald who sits on the PC – begged the township board to approve the ordinance as written, as did the majority of residents present.
Jeremy Kwekel of Cato Township asked for a show of hands from those who support Apex’s Montcalm Wind project. Only four of the more than 60 people present raised their hands.
“I love my town, I care deeply about it,” said township resident Jourdan Rasmussen as he held his young daughter, Ada. “My mom taught me from a young age that if you care about something it’s not enough just to feel it, you have to speak it and fight for it and that’s what I’m here to do. Montcalm County and Cato Township have always been a peaceful, quiet place to raise a family. It’s been a place where I can enjoy the night sky. That sky means a lot to me, I think it means a lot to all of us, and I hope one day that my daughter Ada can look at the same sky that I’ve grown up looking at.
“The only legacy we get is what we leave our kids,” Rasmussen said. “When you guys are gone and when I’m gone, the sky is going to be one of the last things left that I hope is the same for her. I’d hate to see that sky with all those windmills scarring it.”
Dave Dowling of Cato Township was the only resident who spoke in favor of a more wind-friendly ordinance, citing an Apex/Upjohn Institute study regarding the theoretical economic benefits of the proposed turbine project. Dowling also mentioned the possibility of engineered rolling blackouts from utility companies.
“There’s gotta be a compromise both ways,” Dowling said. “We need to have an energy generator. We lost the Cook reactor. DTE’s taking off four coal-powered electronic generators by 2030. We need to have a compromise on both sides so we can get some energy into the grid because there’s an awful lot of people who need to have power all the time.”
Lincoln thanked the Planning Commission for their work on the ordinance before making his motion to make multiple changes to the draft.
“I want to see as few turbines as necessary and yet there still be a viable project for those who want to participate,” he said. “I think there needs to be a little bit of change in the ordinance – just a little bit.”
As Lincoln read aloud his proposed changes, residents erupted in loud protests – especially concerning the change in sound requirements from Lmax to Leq 10 minutes.
“We’re going to clear this room if we can’t have this meeting in quiet,” Gilbert warned.
“They’re conducting board business,” added Lakeview Village Manager/Police Chief Darin Dood who was present. “While they’re conducting board business, nobody speak. Nobody speak or you’re going to be asked to leave.”
Joe Hansen of Sidney Township, who is infamous for regularly disrupting local meetings, continued to protest, resulting in a verbal altercation with Dood, even as audience members yelled at Hansen to be quiet.
“I’m the police chief here and if you’re going to be disorderly, I’m going to ask you to leave,” Dood warned Hansen. “You wanna leave now, sir?”
“Do you wanna sit down and be quiet?” Hansen retorted.
“Shut your mouth,” Dood told him.
“You don’t tell me what to do,” Hansen said.
“I just did,” Dood said.
“You’re a nobody here,” Hansen declared.
“You wanna go to jail?” Dood asked.
“This is a Cato meeting. It’s a Cato meeting!” Matt Hubbard yelled at Dood, referring to the Cato Township Board meeting in the Lakeview Village Office.
“You’re still in the village of Lakeview,” Dood responded.
After things calmed down, Behrenwald provided a detailed explanation of how and why he and his fellow Planning Commission members created the ordinance as drafted. He said the 400-foot limit for turbines was a compromise and also a nod to the Lakeview Community Airport’s importance to the local agricultural community, including large potato farms; he said Lmax is more reliable for measuring sound and has less human error; he said the 1.5-mile setbacks for lakes was due to the many bodies of water in the township; and he said the four times tip height setback by roads was an effort to keep people safe. Behrenwald noted that they obtained attorney advice throughout the entire ordinance drafting process as well.
“We looked at both sides,” Behrenwald said. “We did our research.”
“I don’t think a lot of people realize that because of the airport and Townline Lake and Tamarack Lake, that these turbines will only be in the bottom two rows of sections,” Gilbert responded, a comment met by disbelieving laughter from audience members.
Grieser voiced concern about wetlands not being defined in the draft ordinance, to which Behrenwald suggested that they define wetlands as anything 10 acres or larger (turbines will be required to be set back 1.5 miles from those wetlands). Lincoln agreed to add this amendment to his motion and the amendment passed 4-0 (Gilbert didn’t vote).
Grieser didn’t like Lincoln’s proposed sound language, but Lincoln was not willing to change his motion on this point, and he noted that Maple Valley, Pine and Winfield townships all use Leq language in their wind ordinances (the ordinances in Maple Valley and Winfield townships are both in the process of going to a voter referendum, while Pine Township’s ordinance uses Leq 1 second language, not 10 minutes).
Lincoln and Lindsay voted “yes” to the wind ordinance with Lincoln’s changes as proposed, while Behrenwald and Grieser voted “no” and Gilbert broke the tie by voting “yes.”
“Recall! Recall!” audience members shouted in response.
“Todd and Larry, would you like to share where you got your numbers?” Kwekel asked after the vote.
“Nope,” Lincoln responded as residents hooted, hollered and laughed in response.
“This is public comment. I don’t have to answer you,” Gilbert added.
“I know you don’t, but you can,” Kwekel said. “You’re fighting the community. This is ridiculous. Is this all (Montcalm County Board of Commissioners Chairman and Cato Township resident) Pat Carr? Just because of Pat Carr? Seriously, how far does he control you guys? That’s sad.”
“Thank you, Todd, for putting a windmill next to my house,” declared township resident Pat Clark as she stood up and walked out of the meeting in tears.
“We’re being bullied by Larry because he doesn’t care about us – he cares about Pat Carr,” Matt Hubbard declared. “Todd Lincoln cares about Pat Carr and Dan Paris (a Winfield Township resident who works with Apex), and we don’t matter. What Apex showed you is a lie, but you don’t care about us, you care about seven individuals in this township and guess what that’s going to get you? We need new leadership and that’s what it’s going to get you.”
“Is there an Apex representative here? No?” asked township resident Marcy Myers.
“They knew what you were gonna do tonight,” she declared to the township board as residents cheered and applauded her statement. “You discussed that with them.”
Robert Scott, a retired real estate attorney who lives in Sidney Township, said according to his research, only 20 leases involving 34 landowners have signed with Apex in Cato Township. He pointed out that the township has a population of around 2,900 people, so the leases represent barely 1% of the township.
“What you had before you was a compromise,” Scott told the township board. “The citizens of this township don’t want a single turbine in this township under any circumstances. They offered you a compromise and you threw it back in their faces. What you guys have done tonight is bloody indefensible.”
Brian O’Shea, the public engagement manager for Apex, has previously stated that more than 3,500 acres of land in Cato Township are signed up for the wind farm project.
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