MAPLE VALLEY TOWNSHIP — The Maple Valley Township Board tabled a proposed wind ordinance Monday, followed by nearly an hour of passionate public comments.
The Maple Valley Township Board voted 3-1 on Monday to table a proposed wind energy ordinance. Trustee Lee Frandsen, at far left, voted “no” while from left Clerk Cathy Benson, Supervisor John Schwandt and at far right Trustee Ben Newell all voted “yes.” Deputy Treasurer Marianne Schwandt, pictured to the right of her husband, John Schwandt, is a deputy and did not vote. Questions were raised by audience members about Newell’s involvement in discussing and voting on wind-related items as Newell has signed a lease with Apex Clean Energy. — Screenshot
The township’s Planning Commission in April recommended the ordinance to the township board. The Montcalm County Planning Commission reviewed the ordinance on May 2 and made suggestions, including John Johansen recommending the removal of “Lmax” from the sound language, changing shadow flicker language to “occupied buildings” instead of from non-participating property lines, decreasing the three times tip height setback for turbines and also decrease lake setbacks for turbines and Michael Beach voicing concern that the 500-foot turbine high limit is too restrictive.
Township Planning Commission Secretary Andi Knapp on Monday asked the township board to vote on the ordinance as presented.
“We did the best we could and we’d like to see it passed the way it was,” Knapp said.
Supervisor John Schwandt said “a few” township Planning Commission members requested that the township board send the ordinance back to the PC so they could review the county PC’s recommendations.
“The things that they want to change would literally take us back to where we were in November 2020,” Knapp responded. “Not only would that be a slap in the face of residents, it would be a slap in the face of the Planning Commission which has been working on it for a year and a half. We feel that the board should vote on it and go from there. We’re hopeful that our work wasn’t in vain. We did the best that we could. What we sent is what we feel the township should adopt.”
Trustee Lee Frandsen, who also sits on the township Planning Commission, agreed with Knapp that the township board should vote on it Monday.
As Schwandt asked Trustee Ben Newell for his thoughts, township resident Penny Bassett called out, “I think Ben should leave the table because he’s not supposed to vote.”
“Ben can comment,” Schwandt said. “It’s a general ordinance. We went through this.
Maple Valley Township Planning Commission Secretary Andi Knapp asked the township board on Monday to vote on a wind ordinance as drafted by the Planning Commission; however, the township board voted 3-1 to table the ordinance. — Screenshot
“Don’t look at Mr. (Robert) Scott (of Sidney Township),” Schwandt added. “We talked to Kyle O’Meara, our township lawyer.”
Newell previously abstained from voting on the township board’s vote to rescind a previous wind ordinance in March 2021, due to Newell’s lease with Apex Clean Energy.
“I think we should table it for a month,” Schwandt said of the ordinance on Monday, a comment which resulted in groans and scoffs from audience members.
“I would like some time to look it over and to look over the information the lawyer sent to us,” Clerk Cathy Benson said.
“I would also like to review the information,” Newell added.
“You’re supposed to be recused!” a man yelled at him from the audience.
“I think we should table it for a month,” Newell continued.
One of the reasons cited by township board members in wanting to table the ordinance for a month was to review a email with a 72-page letter attached sent that morning by Ohio-based attorney Joshua Nolan to the township on the subject of the wind ordinance.
Joshua Nolan letter to Maple Valley Township
The township board voted 3-1 to table the ordinance with Schwandt, Benson and Newell voting “yes” and Frandsen voting “no.” Treasurer June Miller was absent — her fourth absence this year now, as she was also absent from February’s regular meeting, March’s annual meeting and April’s regular meeting.
While Knapp wanted the township board to vote on the ordinance that night, at least two other Planning Commission members didn’t mind the delay.
“I am not offended that you want to take the time to look this over because that is what we have been doing, trying to take the time to look it over,” Ann Scoby Petersen said. “Please go ahead and table it for a month. I have no problem with that.”
“I do hope you take the time to look this over,” Dennis Dombkowski added. “If we don’t get this thing right, we all have to live with it.”
As public comment got underway, Schwandt asked those in attendance to refrain from clapping and interrupting, but this instruction was completely disregarded with people applauding multiple statements — even giving some comments a standing ovation — and interjecting their own comments.
“I personally am disgusted that you are putting this off for another month,” resident Sherrill Houser said. “You need to recuse yourself, Mr. Newell. For you to put it off for another month, in my opinion, is disgusting.”
“What you did here tonight is a complete joke,” resident Robin Poulsen added.
Robert Scott of Sidney Township said the township board owes it to residents to define what Newell’s role is regarding participating in the wind ordinance discussions and votes.
“If he votes on this ordinance, then there’s a problem,” Scott said. “We had that problem in Sidney, we had a trustee who we thought had agreed to recuse himself. He showed up and voted on the ordinance and guess what? He’s no longer a trustee in our township.”
Sidney Township Board Trustee Jed Welder voted “no” regarding his township’s wind ordinance last summer. Welder was recalled from office in last week’s recall election, losing to Erik Benko, the founder of the Montcalm County Citizens United Facebook page.
In other matters …
Also during Monday’s meeting, the Maple Valley Township Board:
• Announced that township cleanup day for township residents will be June 18 with six dumpsters available. The township will pay the cost of $2,700.
• Learned there is a vacancy on the Planning Commission due to the resignation of Michelle Germain. Interested candidates can email Supervisor John Schwandt at firstname.lastname@example.org to express their interest.
• Learned that the Planning Commission will soon begin working on creating a solar ordinance for the township.
• Heard from resident Penny Bassett who requested an update about the township-owned old school bus garage. Bassett at March’s annual township board meeting (at which residents can vote) made a motion which was approved that the township board look into selling the garage with a report due back to residents by June’s meeting. On Monday, Bassett requested the township board make a motion to vote on a bid for the building at June’s meeting. Township board members did not vote on Bassett’s request.
• Heard Bassett request that the township board dismiss Marianne Schwandt — the wife of Supervisor John Schwandt — who was appointed deputy treasurer at April’s meeting, replacing former deputy treasurer Suzanne Kocher. Treasurer June Miller has been absent from four meetings so far this year, including Monday’s meeting. Bassett publicly accused Marianne Schwandt of misappropriating township funds in years past. Township board members did not vote on Bassett’s request.
The next regular Maple Valley Township Board meeting will be 7 p.m. on June 13 at the Coral Community Center.
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