Wind energy has divided neighbors in communities across Northern Michigan. In the upcoming election, Joyfield Township voters will have decide if there's reason enough to recall several board members who some say are too close to the issue of wind turbines.
Joyfield Township is usually a quiet place. It's mostly rural and with a population right around 800. So when a topic comes up that fills the Township Hall, everyone knows about it. For the past year or so that topic has been wind.
Jim Evans was at a recent meeting of the township board. Evens is a farmer in Joyfield township.
Evens says, "Allowing a $360-millon project to come in and operate, without anything in writing, in 2011, 2012, 2013, whenever it happens is insanity."
The 360 million dollar project is Duke Energy's plan to build more than 100 wind turbines in this area. The township has no zoning rules to govern the construction of those turbines. Three members of the township board have leases with Duke. Now they face a recall. The board members targeted for the recall are Supervisor Larry Lathwell, Clerk Gary Lathwell and Treasurer Debra Lindgren. The ballot language says their lease agreements cause a conflict of interest.
Susan Zenker thinks the recall is unfair and she has started a group supporting the township board. Zenker's family has also signed leaser agreements with Duke Energy.
Susan Zenker says, "Signing lease is something farmers and landowners do. We've done it before. We've done it with natural gas. We've done it with the oil companies. There's never been any drama there. But all of a sudden, there's drama."
The recall ballot also says the three officials have shown -quote- no concerns about the health, safety and welfare of the constituents of Joyfield Township. Matt Emery helped gather the signatures. He also spoke at a recent meeting of the Joyfield Township Board. He says the recall effort isn't a personal attack on the board, but rather a reaction to what he says has been a lack of action on the board, "But they're leaving us no recourse. Not taking action. Not getting in any rules. When we got rid of zoning, it's not like it created some utopia here. It just took away all of the framework that the county had already established to have some rules and some order in this township. So now it's their responsibility to make the rules and keep the order and they're not doing it."
On the ballot is also a proposal to enact a property tax to pay for planning and zoning in the township. It's estimated the millage would raise almost 39 -thousand dollars in its first year about 50 dollars per person. Here again the board is being criticized. Residents that want zoning say the board made the tax too large, so it would be voted down. That way Duke would still be able operate without the restriction of zoning; but it would be the voters who rejected zoning but not the board.
But Susan Zenker refutes that theory. She says the board has discussed the importance of raising enough money to put together a new planning and zoning, "Once they get their planning and zoning established, their master plan in place, the new planning commission in place, then the overall cost of zoning and planning will go down. And the board has clearly stated at their last meeting that that millage can be adjusted to reflect that. So, the first couple of years might be kind of expensive."
Residents of Joyfield Township will decide the zoning question on Tuesday when they also vote to keep or remove three township officials The three officials subject to the recall have declined to comment.