CARO — Nearly 100 people attended the Ellington Township Board meeting Wednesday and discussed incoming wind turbines, all until a janitor kicked everyone out at 10:30 p.m.
So many people attended, in fact, that the meeting had to be moved from Ellington Township Hall to the Tuscola Technology Center in Caro.
“We’re very concerned,” said Ellington Township resident Mike Pattullo. “We’re here to see if we can convince the township board to give us some breathing room and to hit the pause button on this issue.”
About 16 people spoke of the planned wind farm project, called ‘Tuscola III’, expected to occupy parts of Ellington, Almer and Fairgrove Townships.
NextEra Energy Resources Inc. said it could be applying for the wind park anytime, which scares several non-participating residents.
Most people who attended the meeting were against the wind farm, while others voiced their support for the project.
“Day after day, month after month, the wind developers are relentless in trying to force wind turbines in our townships in locations where the turbines will be negatively affecting the residents’ health, safety and welfare,” said Ellington Township resident Bobbie Mozden. “Board members, please revise the wind ordinance and protect our township residents.”
Pattullo said their biggest concern is the township’s current wind farm ordinance, adopted last year, which allows 55 decibels of sound from the home and a setback of 1,320 feet from the home.
“In doing our research, we have found that our ordinance, as it stands, is possibly the weakest ordinance enacted in Michigan in the last five years,” he said.
Almer Township resident Jim Tussey attended the meeting to voice his concerns because the incoming wind farm could affect his township, too.
During the meeting, Tussey explained how higher sound levels projected from the wind turbines can affect neighboring residents.
“A recommendation of 55 decibels does provide for noise that we are accustomed to during the day but it is not what we’re accustomed to at night,” he said. “I just ask the board to think about that.”
Mark Trumbauer, project manager with NextEra Energy Resources Inc. said residents in other townships have expressed similar concerns.
“So many of the concerns that citizens have tonight, we’ve seen and we’ve heard and we’ve also reacted to,” Trumbauer said.
He added that there are over 40,000 acres of leased land in Tuscola County for wind farm development and there are more than 180 landowners in the county who are receiving lease money.
“I think it’s important to note that we’ve been here since 2012,” he said. “I hope that you can look at the benefits that come along with wind farms … it’s an important factor in the farming community.”
Joshua Nolan, an attorney representing the non-participating residents, argued that the residents are more valuable than company investments.
“What about your citizens,” Nolan said. “Your citizens have their whole lives invested here, their families, their homes, everything is here.”
A majority of the residents asked for a 6-month moratorium so the current wind farm ordinance can be revised.
But others, including property owner Ron Cybulski think zoning regulations on the ordinance are acceptable, as there are no records of medical conditions caused by wind turbines.
“I went to the health department this morning and I asked them how many noise-related cases they’ve reported in Tuscola County,” Cybulski said. “We’ve had wind turbines in this area for what, three years? Not one case has been reported in this county of wind turbine-related health problems.”
Health and quality of life affected by sound isn’t their only concern. Pattullo also spoke of the setback restrictions of 1,320 feet from the house.
“If you have any land at all, even two to five acres, and your house is on the front, they can put a wind turbine on the property behind your house and basically take up all the property from your house to the back of your property line for part of their safety zone,” Pattullo said.
Cybulski wasn’t fazed by the concerns.
“Yes, I am a property owner, and yes, I certainly enjoy the lease check I got from NextEra as any other landowner would probably attest to,” Cybulski said. “It’s unfortunate that some of you folks own such small pieces of property that you’re not going to enjoy that.”
His comment angered several residents.
“You better sit down!” someone yelled to him,
“I think you’ve said enough,” someone else yelled.
Once everyone settled down, Nolan brought up another issue.
Nolan said Ellington Township Supervisor Duane Lockwood made a motion to approve the wind farm ordinance with a conflict of interest.
“We’ve heard tonight about a conflict of interest and Mr. Lockwood, it’s my understanding that you signed your lease in September of 2014,” Nolan said. “You took that action with a conflict of interest … and that is a valid basis to overturn the action taken by the township … if you grant them (NextEra) a permit, your citizens will file a lawsuit.”
After hearing everyone’s concerns, the township attorney, Brian Garner asked everyone to bring their same concerns to a special planning commission meeting scheduled for March 9 at 7 p.m. at the Tuscola County Technology Center.
“The planning commission, I think, is the proper place,” Garner said. “All of these concerns need to be brought to the planning commission … they’re the workhorse, they’re the ones who need to have the information.”
The board members didn’t have time to respond.
“At this time, we’re running out of time,” Lockwood said. “We’re going to table this issue.”
Following the meeting, residents said they were disappointed, but still hopeful.
“We’re obviously disappointed that the board did not enact a moratorium,” Pattullo said. “On the positive side, we clearly showed that we are not just a “few” residents, that we are well organized, determined and growing in numbers everyday.”
“I find it very ironic the board’s basis for inaction is because they need more time to process the numerous concerns presented to them … yet residents have been saying that all along when they learned of a weak wind ordinance,” said another Ellington Township resident, Russell Speirs.
None of the Ellington Township Board members could be reached by press time.