JUNIATA TWP, MI -- Dozens of people in winter garb huddled around the opening of a tent, struggling to listen to a technician inside who was attempting to allay their fears about a wind turbine project.
The technician wasn't able to complete his comments, though, as the Juniata Township Planning Commission's public hearing Saturday morning, Dec. 9, on a proposed NextEra Energy Resources wind farm was cut short.
Around 30 minutes into the hearing, Caro Fire Chief Randall Heckroth walked up to the podium and ordered only 40 to 45 people be allowed within the 35-by-15-foot tent where the proceedings were held.
Heckroth had counted around 80 people within the tent and said that, with the heaters and amount of people inside, it was a safety hazard. Heckroth said someone had called 911 to alert him of the hazard.
People inside and outside the tent began to cheer, "Cancel the meeting," "Call the meeting," "We're getting sick out here."
After some deliberation, the planning commission voted to adjourn the meeting and hold the next hearing on the project in a larger, warmer place. A date for the next hearing hasn't yet been scheduled.
The proposed project by Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources spans two townships -- Juniata and Fairgrove -- and features 63 General Electric turbines, the company's communication manager, Bryan Garner, previously said.
If approved, it would be the wind energy developer's third such project in Tuscola County and its fourth in the state.
Project manager Erico Lopez said if the plans move forward, construction on the wind farm will begin in spring 2018 and be completed before the end of that year. He estimated the project would generate $12 million in property taxes for Tuscola County and around $3.5 million for Juniata Township.
Some were upset the commission decided to hold the hearing in a tent on a cold and snowy December day and speculated it was done to diminish the turnout.
Planning commission member Heidi Stark dismissed that notion and said they were assured by the tent rental company that the makeshift town hall would hold around 100 people. The commission opted to use the tent after they were concerned not everyone would fit in the township hall, Stark said.
"We have never had this many people attend before," she said. "This crowd is unprecedented for Juniata Township."
Dozens who were not able to fit into the tent stood near the opening trying to hear what was being said.
The planning commission is tasked with reviewing the NextEra's proposed project and seeing if it aligns with the township's current ordinance on wind farms.
Some township residents are concerned about noise and the so-called "flicker effect" from the turbines.
"People are pretty upset with what our officials are trying to do to us," said township resident Garrett Tetil.
Toledo-area attorney Joshua Nolan has sent a letter to members of the planning commission detailing how the project is not compliant with the township's ordinance on half a dozen issues, including noise and vibration levels and shadow flicker effect.
Nolan attended the Saturday hearing and said that, should the township move forward with the project without amending these discrepancies, litigation could ensue.