ALMER TWP. — The Almer Township Planning Commission held a public hearing Wednesday on proposed changes to its wind ordinance, but the board voted to table the matter after a motion called “disturbing” was put forth.
The commission voted 3-3 on the recommended changes, effectively deciding to not recommend changes. Commission members Jim Mantey, Norm Daniels, and Kelly Avery voted no with Brian Schriber, Robert Braem and Darwin Rushlo voting yes. Commission member Jason Emery was absent.
The board then voted 4-2 to table discussion until its next meeting, on Aug. 3.
The Almer Township planning commission has been tasked by the township board of trustees to review the township’s wind ordinance in light of a $200 million wind farm project called “Tuscola III” that’s being planned by Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources L.L.C. for the townships of Almer, Fairgrove and Ellington (see story on page A7).
“The approach of some commission members seemed to be ‘This is one of the steps we’re required to have so let’s have this meeting and don’t confuse me with any more facts because my mind is made up,’” said Art Graff, of Almer Township, and candidate for the Almer Township Board of Trustees.
In early May, the Almer Township Planning Commission voted to recommend a moratorium on wind turbine development, citing a need to learn more about the machines and their impact. The board of trustees ultimately passed on a moratorium
At the same meeting, the commission also voted to table the discussion and resume at its June meeting.
That meeting, held June 6, lasted nearly three hours and included seven motions related to proposed wind changes.
Eventually, the commission voted to recommend a wind turbine setback to be three times the height of a wind turbine from a non-participating dwelling and sound level not to exceed 45 decibels from a non-participating dwelling. The motion passed 5-2.
The board successfully went on to make minor changes to the complaint process, decommissioning, and other aspects of the ordinance.
A meeting held June 16 was only about 30 minutes and briefly reviewed the changes with minor adjustments.
Wednesday’s public hearing was a requirement intended to give citizens an opportunity to comment and have input in the process.
Several citizens spoke up about setbacks (how far wind turbines are in relation to other things) with a majority saying they should be based on distance from property lines as opposed to homes. But after the public comment, commission member Brian Schriber – a candidate for the Almer Township Board of Trustees – immediately made a motion to approve the recommended changes from June and not take into account any of the public comment.
Recordings indicate Schriber’s motion came within 90 seconds of the close of public comment.
“It’s disturbing that you would move this forward in that fashion when it seems the preponderance of the commentary from the public input of our township is to re-craft (the ordinance) so that there is reference in the ordinance to property lines,” Mantey said after Schriber made his motion and prior to a vote.
Commission chair Braem, however, said “I think we’ve talked about that, we’ve heard it, contemplated it…”
“It also seems on several occasions we’ve had residents ask and they were told ‘I think it’s in there’ and they asked ‘Well show us’ and we haven’t shown them,” Mantey said.
Braem said no one has asked him and added “I’ve looked through that, there are some things that are in there, they are in different areas, and some things that aren’t.”
Schriber said the recommended changes came from “the advice” of Spicer Engineering, the company hired by the township, who brought recommendations to the group “of which we knew not that much about windmill stuff and they were…they do it every day” and that they submitted recommendations accordingly.
“Unfortunately, they don’t live here,” said Mantey, seeking election as Almer Township supervisor.
Mantey also raised the issue of adding details about setting up more requirements related to decommissioning of turbines now, rather than later. Decommissioning refers to the process of taking turbines down once no longer in use.
Schriber countered by comparing a 499-foot tall wind turbine to a residential house.
“Windmills seem to be the only structure you want to decommission,” Schriber said to Mantey. “You’re not worried about decommissioning other type buildings in the community when their sole purpose is over with. You’re not worried about decommissioning a house when it’s gone. You’re not worried about decommissioning another building when it’s gone. But you’re worried about decommissioning a turbine.
“I understand we need to protect residents to a degree, but that’s a privately owned thing. It’s not the township’s responsibility,” Schriber said. “I don’t know how much more complicated you want to try to make this…”
Mantey responded by saying “It’s not complicated…they’re coming here to ask to do business in our township and in this context, listen, here’s how you do it.”
Graff later said the commission missed an opportunity to listen to citizens and incorporate their feedback into the wind ordinance instead of appearing to be surprised that the public had input.
“I’m really disappointed because the residents who spoke…and those comments were swept right under the rug,” Graff said. “Isn’t the purpose of the public meeting to get input from the public?”