The stalemate over possible wind ordinance changes continues in Ellington Township, where the board of trustees took no action on two issues put forth Tuesday – both related to the oftentimes contentious six-month debate over wind turbines planned for the community.
The first issue on the table was a motion to end a four-month moratorium in place that prevents applications for wind turbines to be processed. With a 2-2 vote, the motion failed and the moratorium remains.
The second topic related to wind was filling a vacant planning commission seat. Filling the chair could help break the planning commission’s current 2-2 deadlock over changes to the wind ordinance. However, the board of trustees did not confirm Supervisor Duane Lockwood’s nominee, meaning the planning commission vacancy – and deadlock – remains.
The township is reviewing the wind ordinance now as Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources L.L.C. plans a $200 million wind energy project called Tuscola III in Ellington, Almer and Fairgrove townships.
“I’ve probably been to more of these meetings than anybody and I still cannot grasp why there is so much resistance to making even one change to our ordinance,” said Mike Patullo, of Ellington Township.
Patullo is one of a group of “concerned citizens” who have been vocally opposed to existing wind ordinances in the area, consistently showing up in the last six months at planning commission and full board meetings held by elected and appointed officials and voicing their concerns.
Those meetings included Ellington Township Planning Commission meetings where the appointed body was asked to review existing wind ordinance. Earlier this year, the commission ultimately decided to recommend the ordinance stay intact with no change.
On April 4, Ellington’s wind ordinance was once again sent back to the planning commission. The request from the board of trustees was different because planning commission members were asked to specifically review if changes should be made to setbacks.
The resulting meeting was held May 26. Eugene Davidson, one of four members of the planning commission, made a motion to alter setbacks by 80 feet and lower the amount of decibels (the allowable level of noise). The motion died for lack of support and no other motions were made.
Davidson told The Advertiser he was “not really” satisfied with the outcome of the meeting.
George Mika, chairman, Ellington Township planning commission, said he planned to make a motion for even more restrictive setbacks.
“But hearing my board, I don’t think there’s any support for that,” Mika said.
County records show Lockwood has had leases with wind companies dating to at least November 2014 through his company, Ellington Land Properties L.L.C. Since February of this year, however, he has recused himself from wind related discussions and decisions.
This past Tuesday, Lockwood nominated Paul Strasz to fill the position on the planning commission, which is scheduled to meet at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
However, Mike Wagner, trustee, said he supported another potential appointee who expressed interest: Kreg Sherman.
“(Sherman) has lots of time to do research and he’s been on many boards,” Wagner said.
Bryan Garner, attorney for Ellington Township, said the process for filling the planning commission vacancy is that the supervisor makes a recommendation and the board decides to either confirm it or not.
Ehrenberg questioned if the board had to appoint someone to the planning commission Tuesday.
“There’s a vacancy and a deadlock on the planning commission,” Garner advised, adding that the appointee would be part of next week’s planning commission meeting.
Township Clerk Ehrenberg then made the motion to accept the appointment of Strasz. The motion was not seconded so there wasn’t a board vote.
Lockwood tried to then move on to the next item on the agenda, but the other board members and audience expressed confusion that no one was appointed. Garner said Lockwood did not have to make an appointment.
“I’m not going to appoint anybody right now,” Lockwood said. “I didn’t make no other appointment so we move on. I don’t have anybody I want to appoint right now. We have a quorum (at the planning commission).” Eric Zbytowski, of Ellington Township, also confirmed he expressed interest in March in serving on the planning commission. Zbytowski works as senior engineering manager at Walbro Engine Management in Cass City and is involved in several other community-focused activities and organizations. He also has spent extensive time talking to those who live near wind turbines.
However, his name was not mentioned during Tuesday’s meeting, something he called “disappointing.”
“I’m interested in the position because I believe I can contribute to the planning commission and our township,” Zbytowski told The Advertiser. “Technically, I bring general engineering knowledge and the ability to research unfamiliar topics to the point of being proficient in discussing the details.”
Russell Speirs raised the question of whether or not Lockwood’s decision to not appoint someone to the commission that is in the process of reviewing the township wind ordinance is a conflict of interest and why filling the spot doesn’t appear to be a priority.
“We can see the difficulties of some of these boards where someone is missing, on some hot topic,” Speirs said. “It seems like it would serve our township well if we had a full board.”
Lockwood said Strasz was most qualified.
“The ones that I got…most of them…basically I seen that they want to get on the planning commission because they had an issue with what was going on and that’s not a reason to get on the planning commission.”
Speirs asked Lockwood to elaborate on the statement.
“They’re basically totally against wind energy,” Lockwood said.
The Advertiser emailed a series of questions to Lockwood Wednesday seeking detailed information about the process he used to select Strasz as a nominee, and why Lockwood didn’t have a second choice lined up, among other things. Lockwood did not respond to the email.
Speirs – who is running against Lockwood for Ellington Township’s supervisor position – told The Advertiser it was “very frustrating” that no one was appointed.
“It is obvious to me the Duane wants a pro-wind planning commission,” Speirs said. “However, I don’t think he can find anyone to appoint who is pro-wind and meets the criteria to fill the position.
“I think there are many people who are neutral regarding wind energy, but lease holders have labeled anyone who shows any concern or asks any question regarding turbines as anti-wind.
“Duane and others are so extreme, someone who is in the middle still looks polarized to them,” Speirs said. “A deadlocked PC means the weak ordinance stands.”
The Ellington Planning Commission is scheduled to meet Tuesday, June 22, at 7:30 p.m. at the Ellington Township Hall.