The newly elected board in Ellington Township passed a one-year moratorium on allowing wind turbines into the township, and their counterparts in Almer Township could do the same next month.
By a vote of 4-1, the Ellington board passed the one-year moratorium in a special meeting held Tuesday. The Almer Township also held a special meeting Tuesday and voted to discuss a similar moratorium at its Dec. 13 meeting.
The actions could affect Tuscola III Wind Energy Park planned by Tuscola III L.L.C. – a subsidiary of Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources L.L.C.
The company filed applications for special land use permits in Almer, Ellington, and Fairgrove township in September for a $200 million wind turbine project.
But the new officials on both boards have had questions all along about wind ordinances in each community now in place, specifically taking issue with what they have consistently called “weak” regulations, and essentially being elected to office on that platform.
“It’s very clear to me what the voting population of residents in Ellington Township want, and this board is representing them, and we want to give them a proper ordinance that respects what we think they want – health, safety, and welfare,” said Russell Speirs, supervisor, Ellington Township.
But Bryan Garner, manager of communications for NextEra Energy Resources, told The Advertiser that “the citizens of Almer and Ellington townships deserve a vote” on the project.
“Almer and Ellington Townships have thoroughly debated every issue of wind energy for more than a year now,” Garner said in an email, referring to extensive reviews of wind ordinances in both communities in anticipation of Tuscola III.
“The permit application we submitted for Tuscola III reflects some of the most stringent setbacks and noise regulations of all local ordinances, both current and proposed, and balances the concerns of both participating and nonparticipating landowners,” Garner said.
“The citizens of Almer and Ellington Townships deserve a vote on this project and an opportunity to realize the significant economic and clean energy benefits Tuscola III presents.”
But Jim Mantey, newly elected Almer Township Supervisor, said it’s important to slow things.
“It’s my opinion we need to slow this down a little bit and take a more direct look at it in regards to health, safety and welfare – I don’t think that we’ve done that,” Mantey said. “It’s not an issues of anti-wind or pro-wind development because I think that in general this township is supportive of wind energy but we need to look at the health, safety and welfare in a manner that hasn’t been.”
The Almer Township board voted 5-2 in favor of a resolution to discuss and possibly vote on the matter Dec. 13.
Clerk Peggy Reavey and Trustee Brian Schriber voted against the resolution, and Schriber said he had a problem with the presentation of the resolution to the board.
“In all previous board meetings we’ve always had things brought to our attention ahead of time so we could actually look through it, digest it and talk to somebody if we wanted to,” said Schriber. “I’ve had Mr. (Brian) Garner, our previous legal counsel, mention this was not the way to go about a moratorium. And our new, hired attorney, which I know nothing about, says this is the way to go about a moratorium. So I guess I’m very uneasy, and I don’t feel that it should be passed.”
Both boards approved hiring attorney Mike Homier, of Lansing’s Foster, Swift, Collins & Smith, P.C. He replaced Lapeer-based Taylor, Butterfield, Howell, Churchill & Garner P.C. on issues pertaining to wind. Attorney Brian Garner was with the Lapeer firm.
“I’m an advocate of slowing down the process so that we can better establish health concerns,” said newly elected board Trustee Jim Tussey. “I think the planning commission has done many good things, but I think looking at the health area is particularly important and so I’m an advocate of slowing down the process to get the planning commission time to look at the health and the welfare through experts.”
Reavey requested a copy of the resolution read into the public record, but there was only one copy. She then asked if any other members saw the information prior to the meeting. Tussey responded he saw bits and pieces of the information.
“It’s back to that transparency thing, Jim,” added Schriber. “Everybody on the board’s supposed to have copies of it so we know what’s going on but yet you’re going to railroad it and shove it through.”
“I believe tonight is a resolution for which there will be time – there’s no vote taking place tonight, Brian,” Mantey responded concerning the moratorium resolution.
Attendees also showed signs of division among themselves during the meeting.
Former township supervisor Jim Miklovic spoke during public comment to the newly elected officials who are Mantey, Tussey, and Trustees Art Graff and Jim Rosenstangel.
He also expressed concern over residents of Ellington Township coming to Almer Township meetings and making suggestions concerning its wind ordinance.
“You know, we had several people, nonresidents, come to Almer Township meetings,” said Miklovic. “I respect the right to everybody to come to a public meeting and to speak to a public meeting but I really think (residents of Ellington Township) have been coming here and regularly making suggestions and telling people in Almer Township how we should run our township.
“I really don’t think that should carry any weight whatsoever. Unless they’re not a taxpayer of Almer Township, I really don’t think what they have to say should really carry any weight, whatsoever.”
Jim Block, a resident of Almer Township countered Miklovic’s comments by reminding him of the Nov. 8 election results.
“You should realize you lost,” Block said. “I’ve heard enough of this game – you lost. People have a right to speak; people have a right to join together. That’s exactly the kind of divide and conquer strategy used by NextEra. They thought we were too dumb to figure it out, but when the people vote and the people speak respect their decision – you lost.”