After more than two years of study and consideration, the Van Buren Township Planning Commission at its Aug. 22 meeting approved the final site plan for a landfill-gas-to-energy plant on a 1.5-acre site zoned Office Technology in the former Visteon Village campus.
Commissioners Dr. Carl Johnson and Ken Guenther cast “no” votes. At the Aug. 8 meeting, Dr. Johnson had again voiced concerns about the safety of the chemical compounds that will be coming out of the exhaust stacks.
An attorney’s opinion was that the air quality is regulated by the State of Michigan and is outside of the authority of the planning commission.
Voting in favor of the final site plan were Chairwoman Carol Thompson, Township Treasurer Sharry Budd, and Commissioners Bob McKenna, Bryon Kelley, and Donald Boynton.
Commissioners also approved a tree removal permit for the project.
There will be no tree removal at the site or groundbreaking for the building until 14 stipulations are met, according to Thompson.
The project will pipe in landfill gas from Waste Management’s Woodland Meadows landfill north of Ecorse Road to the site of the electrical generating plant on the west side of the former Visteon Village (now called Grace Lake Corporate Center and no longer owned by Visteon).
After the meeting, attorney Thomas Stoepker and Ameresco/Hoosier representative Jeff Stander told the Independent that they had hoped to begin building the facility by Nov. 2 when their state permit runs out, but now it won’t be until next year.
Stander pointed out they had a lot of stipulations to meet before they can proceed, including getting the township board to vacate the head of a county drain, getting final site plan approval for the DTE substation needed to connect to the power grid, and preparing an appropriate emergency response plan. They also have to apply for a new MDEQ permit for air quality.
In a repeat of the Aug. 8 meeting, Thompson had to call VBT Police officers during the Aug. 22 meeting to stand by in the meeting room to keep the peace, as project opponents John Delaney and Reg Ion disregarded her orders to stop talking during inappropriate times in the meeting.
Thompson recessed the meeting and called police on her cell phone. After Lt. Bart DeVos was in the room, she resumed the meeting. There were two more officers in the hallway.
Dr. Johnson said there still were a number of outstanding issues and he would like to track the progress of the drain abandonment, the ITC easement paperwork, the DTE facility approval. Director of Planning and Economic Development Terry Carroll said he would give monthly reports to the commission on the progress of the project.
Delaney had threatened a law suit if the project was approved and mentioned it again at the meeting. The neighbors had chipped in to hire an attorney, fearing toxic fumes from the stacks and loss of property value. They charged that the township did not follow its own ordinances and a manufacturing facility with smokestacks was forbidden from the Office Technology zoning, which was intended as an office building campus.
“There is going to be a law suit,” Delaney said. “We’re David and they’re Goliath and you know how that came out.”
Neighbors voiced their disappointment with the commission, charging they turned their backs on the community’s concerns.
Ernie Tozer, a neighbor to the project and outspoken critic, referred to the motion passed by the Board of Trustees the evening before where a majority voted to ask the planners to postpone voting on the final site plan until the board could meet with the planners to get details of the project.
At the beginning of the Aug. 22 meeting, chairwoman Thompson said while the commission is always happy to share information, the township board asking the commission to postpone a vote, “is not within the legal purview of the township board.”
Tozer said the township board, after getting additional information, may have decided to rescind its special land-use approval for the project that it gave last year.
“They asked for a couple of weeks, after a couple of years,” Tozer said, adding that obviously the board representative (Budd) does not talk to the board and pass on information from the commission. Tozer said he talked to the supervisor and he didn’t have a clue about what was going on at the commission.
“You could have given them that courtesy … it was a more professional thing to do,” Tozer lamented, referring to the postponement of the vote.
Township Trustees Al Ostrowski and Denise Partridge were present in the audience and spoke on behalf of the township board’s request to postpone the vote in order to get more information.
Ion said from the audience that the commission has once again let this community down and “put us at high risk”, referring to the on-again, off-again Saratoga residential project at Ecorse and Belleville roads. That project finally was rejected and he thanked the commission for that.
Ion said it may not be the present residents, but their children who get sick. He suggested chairwoman Thompson retire from the planning commission and “take up quilting or craft stuff.”