Resident: 'They talk about the environment, but it really all comes down to money'
Apparently elections in Huron County's Lake Township don't mean much.
In February, Lake Township voters struck down a zoning ordinance that would allow wind turbines to operate near their homes by better than a 61 percent to 39 percent margin. Yet, there's a good chance township residents will have to live next to the turbines anyway.
On May 21, the Lake Township board began a process to transfer about 4,000 acres to a neighboring township (Chandler), which has zoning that allows wind turbines. There is no way Lake Township voters could stop the transfer if the township officials go through with the process because of the way a Public Act is being used to facilitate the process. The timetable for doing the transfer could be accomplished within less than two months.
"We said 'no' when we voted on it," said Tony Kanyak, a Lake Township farmer. "It was turned down by the voters. Now a select few are doing it anyway. It's a dictatorship. Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and this is wrong."
The vote to take the first step in the transfer process was 3-2. Township Clerk Valerie McCallum cast one of the "no" votes.
"What's the point in having an election when it doesn't matter because what the voters voted for is just going to be overturned?" McCallum has been asking repeatedly in recent weeks.
Trustee Robert Osborn, who voted to move ahead with the transfer process, has argued that the February election result can be discounted because voters were allegedly misled.
But when asked if misleading claims were made by the losing side in elections, Osborn said, "that's probably so."
"I really do respect the intelligence of voters," he said. "We wanted to hold the election at a different time but someone said we couldn't. I've been getting a lot of calls on this. I'd say the majority of them are favorable. I'm not saying we're definitely going to do this (the transfer). I haven't made up my mind yet."
Osborn is an advocate for wind power.
"I'm in favor of it because I want my grandchildren to be able to breathe," he said, adding that he hopes alternative energy will also lead to the closure of a nearby coal plant.
Former Lake Township Supervisor Clay Kelterborn characterized the claim that voters were misled as insulting and inaccurate.
"They certainly don't have any consideration for what the community wants,” Kelterborn said. "Basically they're thumbing their nose at the voters. Trustee Osborn says the voters were misled. A lot of us think that's an insult. Everyone pretty much knew what the issues were. The county held a referendum on this topic about a year ago. Anyone who didn't know about this issue had to have been living under a rock."
About 20 landowners own the property that would be transferred. Of these, only seven are township residents. They all have leases for putting wind turbines on their land. These landowners have hired the law firm that introduced the transfer idea to the township board.
The idea is to use Michigan's Act 425 for the transfers, which allows portions of a township to be transferred with simple majority votes of the two township boards. Act 425 includes a way for residents to try to stop the transfer, but the plan presented to the Lake Township board eliminates that voter safeguard. This was accomplished by gerrymandering the proposed transfer map.
Located in the western quarter of the township, the land that would be transferred forms a blotched pattern of rectangular shapes. Islands of land between these areas include the homes and property of 55 residents. However, (because of the way the map was drawn) these residents would be ineligible to use the Act 425 referendum provision, even though, they'll end up living in the shadow of turbines if the transfer takes place.
Township Treasurer Dorothy Fischer, who voted for pursuing the transfer, said she was aware that the way the transfer map was drawn would assure that there could be no referendum to stop the transfer.
“They (the turbines) will not be close to their homes,” Fischer said when asked if it was fair that some residents would now have to live near the turbines. “They have to go by the rules, and they can't be built close to their homes.”
The distance required in Huron County is 1,300 feet.
Fischer said she would not end up living near the turbines if the transfer went through.
Keterborn, however, will have to if the land transfer goes through.
"We'd be surrounded by them," Keterborn said. "They'd be all around."
Keterborn also said he would expect his property value to go down.
Trustee Osborn disagreed.
"According to what I've read, property values have increased in the areas where the wind turbines are built," he said.
Jim Quinn, a Lake Township real estate agent, said he'd expect property values to go down if the turbines go up.
"Absolutely," Quinn said. "If you live next to a windmill, good luck trying to sell. What this board is doing is a slap in the face of every property owner and voter in the township. When your votes don't matter, it isn't America anymore."