NORTH BRANCH TWP. — North Branch Township resident Traci Martin did not expect to spend last week doing things like securing folding chairs and tables, finding a microphone and podium, and figuring out how she might feed as many as 500 people.
But that’s exactly what happened when word quickly spread via Facebook about an “informative meeting” about 499-foot industrial wind turbines she’s hosting Tuesday (Oct. 17).
Among other things, people with experience in dealing with wind turbines from other communities throughout the region will attend, hoping to help others understand as much as possible about the industrial machines and their potential impact.
The overall goal, Martin said, is to help people understand as much as possible before it’s too late.
“I have an indoor riding arena that can accommodate 300 to 500 people, which is probably what we’re looking at now,” she said. “I did not expect the level of interest, or upset, that we’re seeing in the community, but I think people did not know.”
As The County Press reported Oct. 8, property owners in northeast Lapeer County recently have signed 20 agreements with DTE Energy Co. that are specific to “wind energy development.”
The 20 easement agreements recorded by the Lapeer County Register of Deeds were signed between June 26 and Sept. 26, and encompass a total of 60 parcels in Burlington, Burnside, and North Branch townships.
The majority of the 40-year agreements (with an option for an additional 20 years) are for land generally between the villages of Clifford and North Branch, though some are east and southeast of the village of North Branch.
Cynthia Hecht, spokesman for DTE Energy, told The County Press on Oct. 6 that DTE is in “the very early stages of talking to area landowners about a possible project at some point five to 10 years from now.”
She added it is “too early to provide specific information regarding size, scope, cost, etc.” and provided an official statement noting the company “continually evaluates sites for future wind development throughout the state of Michigan.”
“We are beginning discussions with landowners and the community in Lapeer County to determine if there is sufficient interest for a future wind project that would bring investment, tax revenue and clean energy to the area. We are exploring interest in this area because the wind resource is sufficient to consider a viable project, and the area’s agricultural character would be compatible.”
Martin lives in North Branch Township, near the intersection of Burnside and Jefferson roads.
She wasn’t happy when she saw a map that ran with the Oct. 8 story in The County Press that generally showed where property owners have signed easement agreements with DTE specific to wind.
“I did not know, and I’m finding out none of my neighbors knew, about the turbines that are projected to be constructed,” Martin said.
Martin said she recently relocated from Bloomfield Hills after buying a 30-acre horse farm.
“It’s a very pretty, peaceful place where I live,” Martin said.
Now people like Martin are wondering if it could be in jeopardy.
One of the primary concerns, she said, is impact on property value for property owners who lease property to wind developers and their neighbors.
Martin is a realtor and works in 10 counties spread across southeast Michigan.
“People don’t understand how this impacts the community because people don’t understand how buying and selling of homes work,” Martin said. “The bank will appraise your property. The bank is going to look at if you have a solar field, if you have turbines, if you have a waste dump…all of that comes into play with what your home is worth.”
“So if your neighbor does something stupid, like sign a wind lease, your property is affected,” she added. “And then when John Doe down the street is refinancing his property or selling, he wonders why his home value has gone down. Well, it’s gone down because everybody’s has gone down because of what’s happening in the community.”
“And I think that’s where people don’t fully understand the impact of being careless with things such as this,” she said. “It’s not worth whatever they’re getting paid per year because you’re losing that in your home value and so are your neighbors.”
Martin took township officials to task for not being more forthcoming with what is happening in their respective jurisdictions.
“Trying to educate people is very hard, especially when it’s being hidden at the township level. Nobody knows about this,” Martin said.
She cited the limited hours and accessibility to elected officials.
North Branch Township, for example, has “hours” of 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursdays. The township board meets once a month — the second Thursday of the month at 10 a.m., when many people are at work and unable to attend. Martin also cited a lackluster township website (crashed in the middle of last week, but back up by press time) that doesn’t have any past agendas or minutes posted nor any official notices of public meetings.
“How are we supposed to stay informed when it’s completely dysfunctional?” Martin said.
Instead of reacting to significant decisions that might be hard to track, at best, Martin said, she’s working to be proactive.
Hence, the meeting she’s hosting Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
Among those scheduled to attend and speak is Norm Stephens, of Tuscola County’s Almer Township.
Stephens said he aims to introduce attendees to the meaning, and significance, of terms like decibels, setbacks, shadow flicker, decommissioning, and “trespass zoning” as they relate to wind turbines.
He travels throughout the region speaking to groups and public officials about wind turbines after being involved with wind turbine projects in Tuscola County, where they have served as the basis for lawsuits and contention in the community, among other things.
“I want to answer any questions that people who plan to attend the meeting may have,” he said. “It’s information and that’s the most I can do — teach them the terminology and discuss sound like 40, 45, or 50 decibels.”
Stephens said he also hopes township officials can attend and gain additional understanding of the need to prioritize public health, safety, and welfare.
Currently, Burnside Township is the closest of the three townships to having anything on the books with regard to an up-todate wind ordinance.
Burnside Township Supervisor Chad Dempsey said last week that the township’s planning commission has spent the last several months revamping its ordinance related to wind energy. Last week he said the planning commission held a public hearing on the proposed zoning amendment in September
A second public hearing has been set for Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. (see public notice on page 13A). The Burnside Township board next meets Oct. 23 at 7 p.m.
Dempsey said the ordinance was last updated years ago when wind turbines did not go as high into the airspace as they do now, thus were not a viable option for northern Lapeer County.
Burlington Township Treasurer Chris Howland said Burlington Township does not have a wind ordinance in place.
Howland — who said he owns farm land and was approached by a wind company but declined — said the Burlington Township board briefly discussed the topic at its meeting Tuesday. No action was taken, he said.
“I’ll have to put something formally on the agenda for the next board meeting in November with the clerk to address the issue because yes, we’re wide open for anything to happen,” Howland said. “There’s nothing in any of our minutes about anything.”
The Burlington Township board meets the second Tuesday of every month at 8 p.m.
Amy Bridger-Snoblen, clerk, North Branch Township, said the topic briefly came up during its regular monthly meeting Thursday.
Bridger-Snoblen said the board took no action.
North Branch Township does not have an existing ordinance relating to wind, said township attorney Brian Garner.
Bridger-Snoblen said the planning commission is in the process of “looking at all of these things that are coming up now.”
Specifically, she said, the township is reviewing ordinances from other communities to determine how, or if, they will work in North Branch Township.
“We are in the process of readopting our ordinances, but we have something that we’re looking at to adopt,” she said. “It’s nothing set in stone yet, but we are looking at it.”
Bridger-Snoblen plans to attend the meeting hosted by Martin on Tuesday.
Martin said the meeting she is hosting Tuesday, Oct. 17, at 6:30 p.m. is open to the public. Attendees are asked to text or call her with an RSVP at 248-703- 0035. The meeting will be held at 5790 Jefferson Rd. in North Branch Township.