GALIEN — Weesaw Township has rules barring wind farms, but that’s not the case for the four other Berrien County townships being eyed as a possible location for towering turbines.
The prospect of wind farms drew a curious crowd to a Wednesday night, Aug. 17, Galien Township Board meeting, though developers didn’t show up as many in the audience expected. News of the wind turbine farm proposal broke last month when Apex Clean Energy Co. officials held a meeting with area proparty owners.
The company is looking at Weesaw, Galien, Three Oaks, Baroda and Buchanan townships.
Those gathered Wednesday heard Weesaw Township resident Jack Dodds discuss his findings during a research trip to Michigan’s Thumb Area, where several such farms are in operation. Dodds said residents and officials he spoke to in Tuscola, Huron and Sanilac counties said concerns centered around noise and light pollution. He said residents were split on whether they favored the wind farms, though they said the companies in that area honored contracts and worked with people.
Dodds said one township in that area saw its taxable value rise from $18 million to $71 million with the wind farms. Wind turbines are taxed as industrial personal property and their value depreciates over seven years, from 80 percent to 30 percent.
Apex officials earlier said they want to erect 30-35 wind turbines, each of which would be 600 feet tall and cost $3 million. The total area set aside could be as small as 4,000 acres.
Apex officials had planned to attend the Aug. 17 Galien Township Board meeting but a scheduling conflict kept them from attending. Township Supervisor Bruce Williams said the company wanted to meet with officials from area townships in a closed meeting, but that idea was nixed by Galien Township Attorney Sara Bell.
“They (Apex) said they wanted to have an open meeting with board members from area townships, and then said they wanted it to be a closed meeting a couple of days before the planned meeting date,” Williams said. “I talked with our attorney, who is also the Weesaw Township attorney, and she said absolutely not. It would open up a can of worms.”
Galien Township Trustee Jennifer Richter said she didn’t think the company understood the Open Meetings Act, but residents were skeptical.
“Yes, they do,” Beth Denton said. “They like to come to small communities.”
Richter said the permit process in Galien Township would include public hearings and resolutions to add a section about wind farms to the township’s zoning ordinance.
Board members and residents debated on what meetings with Apex should look like. Board members said they expect the company to meet individually with the different township boards because it would take a large facility to handle all the interested residents.
Denton called that a “bad idea” and said she’d like to see at least a joint meeting with Weesaw Township residents. She asked that the township look at ways to better inform residents about what’s going on with the wind farm project.
No matter what the public meetings end up looking like, Williams asked fellow board members to think about hiring an attorney that specializes in handling wind farm projects to help them through the process. He said the different townships could band together to hire an attorney and share costs.