Over the plaintive protests of the neighbors surrounding Visteon Village, the Van Buren Township Board of Trustees voted 4-3 to approve a landfill-gas-to-energy plant on the west end of the Visteon property. The action was taken at the board’s regular meeting April 5.
The first motion, by Trustee Al Ostrowski, was to deny the special land use needed for the project and that failed 4-3, with Partridge, Ostrowski, and Budd voting yes and Jahr, Hart, White, and Wright voting no.
Then Trustee Jahr made a motion to approve the special land use and it passed 4-3, with Wright, Hart, White, and Jahr voting yes and Partridge, Budd, and Ostrowski voting no.
The 19 neighbors, who expressed deep disappointment with the vote, planned to meet with an attorney this week to begin a law suit that may morph into a class-action suit if residents of Canton Township and Romulus, downwind of the plant, decide to join in.
The neighbors are fearful of the tons of pollutants, allowed in the exhaust under Air Quality regulations, that will be intruding into their breathing space.
Neighbor Shari West, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, told the planning commission many times that the fumes from the plant are sure to kill her. She said she and her husband moved to VBT from Canton and bought their dream home from Visteon, who did not tell them about the electrical generation plant that was planned in their back yard.
The landfill-gas-to-energy plant was first planned at the east side of Visteon Village, adjoining the backs and side yards of homes. After the residents resisted the development in their residential area, the project was moved to the far western side of the Visteon property, adjoining I-275.
The neighbors still object to the project, since many worked hard on the Office-Technology zoning for the Grace Lake area that assured the area that became Visteon Village (and now is called Grace Lake Corporate Park) would be like a college campus.
Grace Lake is the newest incarnation of a gravel pit that used to be a magnet for trash dumping. During construction of Visteon Village, the number of buildings planned had to be reduced because of a large quantity of broken cement found buried in the unstable ground surrounding the pit.
That OT zoning was approved in 2001 and the neighbors said they were confident they had nothing to fear because of the wording in the ordinance.
At the end of the April 5 meeting, neighbor Sandy Croswell, who worked on the OT zoning as the planning commission hammered it out in 2000, said she was disappointed in the vote and, “I don’t know how we can trust Visteon.” She said while the neighbors worked to get the OT zoning that would put a beautiful college-campus-like development in their back yard, now it’s “an industrial park with smoke stacks.”
She was referring to the four (and maybe five) 60’ stacks that will be visible from I-275, although there have been attempts with a wall and some tree screening to hide that view from the public.
The project will use the landfill gases from the Waste Management Woodland Meadows Landfill that will be piped in an underground route to the Grace Lake campus to be turned into electrical energy that Hoosier Energy cooperative of Indiana will sell to the electrical grid. The electricity will be sent out of state and is not for local use.
Ameresco, the developer, purchased the rights to the landfill gas from Waste Management about seven years ago and has been sending some to the Ford plant in Wayne and burning off the rest in flares.
The project will provide the hot water produced by the process to Visteon buildings, saving them some $300,000 a year in heating. This hot water is the lease price for Hoosier using the 1.2-acre Visteon plot for the co-generation plant.
The planning commission studied the new project for many months and then voted 5-2 to recommend the special land use to the board of trustees, with Commissioners Carl Johnson and Robert McKenna voting no.
There were 10 planning commission stipulations, including that Visteon Way be turned over to the county as a public road, as Visteon promised a decade earlier and has not done, and that certain privately owned properties would have access to Visteon Way when they wanted to develop. Now only Visteon-owned properties have access.
When it looked like the project might be torpedoed by those two stipulations, Visteon worked out the details of what it said was holding up the Visteon Way quit claim deed to the county. Visteon Way’s quit claim deed was executed in the hours before the April 5 meeting, after hanging loose for a decade.
Also, the access to Visteon Way was not actually solved, but Visteon assigned someone “new” to the project who promised to “work with” the township to promote development along Visteon Way, which seemed to satisfy some board members.
The “new” contact is Craig Medlen who is well-known to the board and serves on the VBT Local Development Finance Authority. He is credited with building Visteon Village as project manager.
Medlen trotted out the projects that had been suggested for Visteon Way vacant lots years ago, including a cancer research center, data center, medical facility, child care center, etc. None of these are going forward because of the economy, he said.
Ernie Tozer, a neighbor, objected to the way the board ignored provisions of the OT zoning ordinance. He also spoke for former planning commission member and Visteon neighbor George Deverich, who was on vacation in Spain.
Tozer said there were 10 items in violation of the ordinance that Deverich had listed and presented to the board previously.
Tozer said the marketing agents for the project were “overstepping the bounds of rationality” in their comments.
John Delaney pointed out the first 17 minutes of that evening’s meeting were devoted to marketing for the project and the public was allowed to comment only in three-minute presentations.
Delaney also accused Hoosier Energy of removing brush and trees without a permit to show off the property to the Hoosier investors last fall. The Hoosier newsletter said groundbreaking had already occurred, falsely insinuating the project had been approved.
“I’m concerned this will set a precedent and open the floodgates for a lot of deviations to the regulations,” Tozer said of the special use permit being granted.
He said the OT zoning specifically prohibits manufacturing from raw material, which the board is granting.
He suggested the board pack up all the ordinances and throw them away, or maybe have a bonfire in the parking lot.
Alan Babosh pointed out that the township would be getting about $300,000 in tax money from the project, which supposedly would bring 25 new jobs. Visteon will be able to charge higher rent because of the free hot water, he said.
It was learned there actually will be four full-time jobs at the plant, with the 25 jobs being those temporary jobs for construction and the support jobs that are estimated by percentages.
Babosh asked what’s in it for the township and suggested Visteon/ Hoosier give a 10-year grant to the new Belleville High School for technology.
Supervisor Paul White, who had told neighbors that they would be pleased with his vote but then voted in favor of the project, said he got word from Hoosier Energy that they would be a good corporate citizen and contribute to the community.
Trustee Al Ostrowski said he went out to the property and saw the cutting Hoosier had done without permits.
“I’ve been against this project from the beginning,” Ostrowski said. “The aesthetics in that area will go down the toilet.”
Trustee Denise Partridge agreed, adding, “This will jeopardize the tranquility of the neighborhood. They worked on an OT zoning and we should honor it.”
Treasurer Sharry Budd said she doesn’t see how the co-generation plant fits in an OT zoning, which was designed to be like a college campus.
“I really don’t think it fits the OT zoning,” Budd said. “We want what was planned for OT.”
Trustee Jahr said the board has received opinions from attorneys and the planning consultants and it appears to be a permitted use with special conditions and “not a detriment to the community.”
He said he didn’t decide how he was going to vote until 4 p.m. the day of the meeting and the “decision is not taken lightly.”
Trustee Phil Hart said he has studied the project and, “I can support this.”
Members of the audience asked the board to check out places Hoosier had developed before to see if they did things for the communities.
“The nonprofit [Hoosier] is going to make oodles and oodles of money,” said Don Schoenberger, referring to Jeff Stander’s statement at a previous meeting that Hoosier had “oodles and oodles of integrity.”
Stander represents Ameresco/Hoosier and has been selling the project to the township for more than a year.
Schoenberger said, “They’ll tell us whatever they want,” adding, “They treated us like Andy of Mayberry, patronizing us.”
Treasurer Budd, who sits on the planning commission and voted in favor of sending it on to the board, read the 10 stipulations imposed by the commission, noting Visteon won’t commit to the four access points, but are “willing to work on the right of way.”
Sandy Croswell said, “A lot of those conditions are based on promises. What are you going to do if they don’t comply? Tear the building down?”
The next step is for Visteon/Hoosier to return to the planning commission for final site plan approval and tree removal permit.