CARO – Bobbie Mozden worries about the nights she might have to take her son to a hotel because a health condition he has could be exponentially worsened by the loud sounds of a nearby wind turbine.
And that’s just one concern Mozden said she has about the $200 million Tuscola III wind farm planned by NextEra Energy Resources Inc. for Tuscola County’s Ellington, Almer, and Fairgrove townships.
The Ellington Township resident says she also worries about having to move out of the area, about how the community is getting ripped apart over those for and against wind turbines, even about being given an obscene gesture by someone who she believes disagrees with her – something she says was unfathomable a very short time ago.
Perhaps above all, Mozden said she’s concerned that she isn’t being heard by those who should be most concerned with what she has to say.
“This group of concerned citizens? We’re all Christian. We’re all educated. We all hold at least a bachelor’s degree. We’re not dumb. We’re not making things up,” Mozden told the Ellington Township board Tuesday. “Our concerns are legitimate and it doesn’t seem to me that you’re taking it seriously.”
Mozden’s is a sentiment becoming more common throughout Tuscola and Huron counties as a growing number of residents speak up and say they are fed up with being treated like their opinions and concerns about issues like safety, noise, impact on land value, and overall aesthetics fall on deaf ears.
They say they’re sick and tired of smooth-talking public relations reps and attorneys running the show.
An attorney for Ellington Township advised the board to not issue a six-month moratorium on moving forward with Tuscola III Tuesday – the board complied and the matter died.
Mozden was one of several people who spoke to the Ellington Township board of trustees Tuesday evening – residents who are concerned about noise and setback ordinances regarding turbines in Ellington.
The meeting was held during one of the season’s worst snowstorms, a move that kept many people from attending, based on social media chatter, the fact the meeting was moved to a bigger venue to accommodate more attendees, and roughly two-thirds of the 100 chairs set up for the public empty. (See video highlights from the meeting)
Those who did attend were met with a brand new resolution passed that night limiting public comment to three minutes per person.
Those who opted to squeeze in as much as they could in three minutes were faced an disinterested board consisting of members who, for the most part, hardly even acknowledged the citizens they’re supposed to represent. One board member, Diane Wilder, was even seen balancing a checkbook.
“I see a checkbook out, (Wilder) was writing checks and going through her ledger, you know, kind of a laissez-faire attitude about (the wind farm discussion),” Mozden said Tuesday during the meeting.
Still, residents like Mozden vowed to not stop speaking out.
“I’m looking at the pros and the cons,” Mozden told the board during her allotted three minutes. “And what I’m seeing in the con section? It isn’t worth the extra money. It isn’t worth me saying to my husband ‘I can’t live here anymore with my children.’”
George Patullo said he’s losing sleep over being so frustrated by the situation that he claims is being driven largely by attorneys for those who stand to make money from the turbines (one source said landowners can make up to $15,000 annually leasing property for turbines).
“There’s already been a lot of damage done to this township and there’s going to be a lot more apparently,” Patullo said. “We’re going to railroad these things in regardless of the health and safety concerns of everyone in this township.
“The more I look at this thing, the more I see a bunch of greedy people not interested in what the health and safety issues are,” Patullo said. “This thing is far from over.”
NextEra isn’t the only company with plans to continue cashing in on the Thumb region’s “lucrative” wind energy.
Representatives from Jackson-based Consumers Energy, which currently operates the Cross Winds Energy Park in Akron and Columbia townships (62 turbines), confirmed Thursday that engineers already have taken measurements of wind patterns in the area to prepare for a second park. That park could be out as far as 2022, but plans are being made. Officials wouldn’t say where the next park could be located.
Further, DTE Energy officials on Thursday night requested a public hearing for creation of a wind energy overlay district covering about 30,000 acres in Bloomfield, Dwight, Lincoln and Sigel townships in eastern Huron County. DTE plans to build wind turbines on the acreage.
With more wind turbines proposed for Huron County – which already has 328 turbines in operation – some residents have had enough (see accompanying story).
Still, officials from companies that make money from wind energy in the Thumb maintain they have an open door policy and that they welcome and encourage feedback from everyone when it comes to their wind-related operations.
They all have phone numbers and links on their websites so that anyone with a complaint can file one – and they all encourage people to do so, if needed.
They’re also at events throughout the region like Tuscola County’s Pumpkinfest and Cheeseburger in Caseville and people like Mary Kulis, area manager for Consumers, sit on community boards.
They also consistently use the phrase “good neighbor” when talking about their respective relationships with the area.
“I do maintain frequent communications with Akron and Columbia township officials,” Kulis told The Advertiser Thursday.
When a wind turbine toppled over during a Feb. 25 snowstorm in Huron County, Kulis said she reached out to Akron and Columbia township officials letting them know Consumers is aware of the situation and following it closely.
Dennis Marvin, community engagement manager with Consumers, said the company works hard to be transparent with the public, too.
“From having open hours at our office in downtown Caro to having exhibits at the county fair, at the pumpkin festival, attending public meetings, whether rotary clubs and so forth, and doing a lot of advertising relating to safety because safety obviously important,” Marvin said.
Then, there is the economic impact of wind turbines.
Mike Hoagland, controller, Tuscola County, estimates more than $4 million in wind turbine revenue was generated in 2014 for various taxing entities in Tuscola County (2015 figures are not yet available). That figure includes an estimated $716,000 for the county’s operating budget, about $776,000 for the Tuscola Intermediate School District, and $718,000 for the townships of Gilford, Fairgrove, Columbia, Wisner, and Akron.
“In the case of the county, we could not have supported the service base at the level we’re able to now without that revenue,” Hoagland said. “There’s no question we would have had to make more severe changes. It has been a life preserver.
“But that’s purely from a financial perspective,” Hoagland said. “I also understand they have changed our landscape like never in history.”
And for all of the positives the business side of wind turbines offer, residents seem to have most contention with the way the business is done. Specifically, all of the stuff likely to not in press releases or presentations with lots of green logos and imagery.
For example, NextEra is locked in a $70-million dispute with Tuscola County over the assessed value of its wind turbines in the area. NextEra Energy Resources, which had net income of about $2.5 billion in 2014, has taken the county to the Michigan Tax Tribunal, leaving the county guessing how much it will have in revenue from turbines.
Also, several Ellington Township residents have raised the issue of a conflict of interest between NextEra and Township Supervisor Duane Lockwood, who has been providing updates on Tuscola III during public meetings the last two years but on Tuesday suddenly recused himself from any discussion related to wind power.
And residents like Patullo say the companies don’t go far enough to take concerns about safety and health into consideration, beyond giving general presentations of plans just before they are finalized.
“They really don’t care,” Patullo said. “As much as they tell you how much they really are concerned about your welfare.”
Businessman – and 29-year Almer Township resident – Jim Tussey isn’t necessarily one to go into a public meeting and get in the face of officials.
He’s barely one to raise his voice, in fact, and puts a tremendous amount of value on his privacy.
But one doesn’t survive being an entrepreneur (Tussey owns two successful Caro businesses and was recently named 2015 Caro Citizen of the Year by the Caro Chamber of Commerce) without passion – and one of his latest passions is NextEra’s plans for Almer Township.
“It’s important that the community know the short-term, mid-term, and long-term consequences of having turbines in the community,” Tussey said. “It’s not a situation where, if you don’t like it, you can just turn it off. It’s more akin to building a bridge, and once a bridge is built, it’s built.”
Tussey plans to work with the concerned citizens in Ellington Township on an educational campaign intended to deliver straight facts about turbines – and not just at public meetings held during major snowstorms.
He plans to work with others and use social and other forms of media to talk straight about the engineering of wind turbines.
For example, he will help people understand what “decibel” actually means (beyond claims made by companies like “about as loud as a microwave”) and how decibels affect different people in different ways – women and children, especially.
“A wind turbine isn’t just a pole barn,” Tussey said. “Wind turbines are infrastructure. They’re industrial equipment. Wind turbines require a special use permit to put industrial equipment in agricultural areas, which are pretty close to residential areas.”
Tussey, who has about 120 acres that are too close to an airport to put a turbine, says he doing it for the good of the community.
“I like people to understand that it’s industrial equipment that is being placed within hundreds of feet of people’s lives,” Tussey said. “And so the consequences are large.
“Are we going to be known as Almer or Ellington townships, or Tuscola County, where you can come retire, be peaceful, or start a business?” Tussey said. “Or are we going to be the turbine town?”
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Tuscola County Advertiser and can be reached at email@example.com
Filed in: Featured Articles, Local Business, Local News, Rotating Features, Tuscola County Tags: Almer Township, Andrew Dietderich, Ellington Township, Fairgrove, Michigan Thumb news, Tuscola County, Tuscola County Advertiser, wind farm, wind turbine
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