Sunday, April 28, 2019

Groups explain opposition to Summit Lake Wind project, call for "No" vote on L'Anse Township Referendum May 7

By Michele Bourdieu
 
Using a scale model to illustrate the amount of tree removal and concrete that would be necessary for just one of the projected wind turbines proposed for the Summit Lake Wind project, Burt Mason, right, chair of the Friends of the Huron Mountains, and Jeffery Loman of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) compare notes as they prepare to speak about the project at Michigan Tech on Apr. 18, 2019. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

HOUGHTON -- Burt Mason, chair of Friends of the Huron Mountains (FOHM), and Jeffery Loman, a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC), have a cause in common: While neither one is opposed to wind energy, both have been passionate about stopping the Summit Lake Wind project proposed for a forested area of L'Anse Township. While the project developer, Renewable Energy Systems (RES), announced on April 19 that they will not proceed with the project, a referendum to be held on May 7 may determine whether zoning changes that would have allowed the wind farm should remain -- opening the area to similar industrial development, or to sulfide mining.

According to Mason, the Friends of the Huron Mountains, a group formed to protect the interests of its members in the Huron Mountains and Michigamme Highlands area, gathered more than enough signatures last fall to petition a referendum that would allow the residents of L'Anse Township to vote for or against permissive zoning changes that the township board adopted last year to allow Renewable Energy Systems (RES) to develop the Summit Lake Wind Farm project on Weyerhaeuser Co. land in L’Anse Township.*

FOHM had opposed the project for many reasons -- questionable economic benefits, environmental damage, tribal rights and more. KBIC passed a resolution against the project last year as soon as Loman informed them it would impact the tribe's treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather in the area, which is part of their ceded territory.

Two environmental groups, the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) and Friends of the Land of Keweenaw (FOLK) joined FOHM and KBIC in opposing the Summit Lake project because of potential negative impacts to the environment.**

Even though RES now claims they will not pursue the project -- citing "continued delays in the planning process" which "ceased to make the project financially and logistically viable" -- FOHM, KBIC, UPEC and FOLK are urging L'Anse Township residents to vote "No" on the May 7 referendum.

The "No" vote is now being challenged by a group that calls itself "Services And Vibrant Economy" ("SAVE"), who mailed a letter to local residents titled "SEEK TRUTH -- DEMAND PROOF" and quoted environmental groups UPEC and Audubon out of context. UPEC has responded to the letter and questioned the group's efforts to manipulate public opinion in advance of the referendum.***

In an April 19, 2019, press release, FOHM welcomed the news that RES is no longer pursuing the Summit Lake Wind project, but added, "The vote, by township residents residing outside the village limits, will be held on May 7 as scheduled. FOHM wishes to remind voters that the referendum is not about Summit Lake -- it’s about rejecting zoning that could open the door to other developers by making all commercial forest land eligible for industrial wind development."****

At Michigan Tech, Mason, Loman present opposition to Summit Lake Wind project

On April 18, just one day before the RES announcement of their withdrawal, Mason and Loman each offered several arguments -- not against wind energy, but against the Summit Lake project because of its proposed siting in forest land -- at a meeting of the College Democrats of Michigan Tech. A small group of students and community members attended the meeting and participated in discussion.

Burt Mason explained why Friends of the Huron Mountains (FOHM) oppose the Summit Lake Wind project.

During the April 18, 2019, meeting of the College Democrats at Michigan Tech, Burt Mason, chair of Friends of the Huron Mountains, describes the area of L'Anse Township that was chosen for the Summit Lake project as a special place that would be destroyed by such industrial development. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)

Mason continued, pointing out why the project would not benefit local residents.

Burt Mason explains why the Summit Lake Wind project would not benefit residents, the environment or visitors.

Jeffery Loman, who formerly regulated the oil and gas industry in Alaska, spoke about industrial destruction of ceded territory lands where his tribe, KBIC, should have the right to hunt, fish and gather natural resources, according to the treaties of 1842 and 1854.

Jeffery Loman of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community speaks about the history of pollution from overfishing, manufacturing and mining in his tribe's ceded territories for seven generations since treaties were signed and the lack of respect for treaty rights. He explains why the tribe is opposed to the Summit Lake wind project on land owned by Weyerhaeuser.

Loman said tribal members who are eligible to vote in the May 7 referendum will vote "No." He noted the massive road network and increased number of turbines planned for the Summit Lake Wind farm would mean cutting down a great number of trees and would facilitate more sulfide mining in the area.

Jeffery Loman of KBIC speaks about the how industry blocks fish and violates treaty rights and notes how more Native Americans are now college graduates prepared to challenge treaty violations under federal law.

Following their presentations, Mason and Loman fielded questions from the audience.

In answer to a question from William Keith, Michigan Tech faculty advisor to Tech's College Democrats, Mason described the background leading to the referendum, which is intended to challenge actions of the L'Anse Township Board. Loman noted some of the destructive methods landowner Weyerhaeuser Co. uses in clearcutting their land, without regard to environmental stewardship.

Burt Mason and Jeffery Loman field questions from the audience on the referendum and clearcutting.

Sarah Green, Michigan Tech professor of chemistry and climate change researcher, asked a question on the siting of the Summit Lake project and its relationship to potential mining in the area.

Jeffery Loman points out how mining interests could benefit from the Summit Lake project being sited in this area of large sulfide deposits.

The presentation concluded with a film about the role of trees in protecting from climate change destruction. The film bore the message, "Without forests there is no climate solution."

Joe Bollech of Skanee and originally from Tomahawk, Wisconsin -- a member of FOHM who retired from a career of hydro dam repair -- commented positively on the presentation.

"I can't see destroying a forest for that [project]," he said. "The way technology is growing, maybe in 15 to 20 years we're going to have the answer to our energy and it will be a far better technology then."

Lindsey Wells, president of the College Democrats at Michigan Tech -- who invited the speakers and attempted to do some research on RES and to give the opposite viewpoint, in favor of the project, in order to be fair -- admitted she was unable to find much information on benefits of the Summit Lake Wind project.

Lindsey Wells, Michigan Tech student in scientific and technical communication and president of the College Democrats at Michigan Tech, welcomes guest speakers, students and community members to the presentation on the Summit Lake Wind project on April 18, 2019 -- one day before RES announced they are not proceeding with the project. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

"I was playing devil's advocate," Wells said after the meeting, "because we couldn't get in contact with any Summit Lake people."

Abi Milne, Michigan Tech student in environmental science (Forestry Dept.) and vice president of the College Democrats at Michigan Tech, said she learned new information from the presentation and discussion.

"I was really interested to get the perspective of locals, which I hadn't seen before," said Milne, who is from Cheboygan, Mich. "I'm interested in getting everyone into politics, but especially young people because they need to be more aware of how directly politics can affect us."

Joani Meyers of Houghton said she found the presentation very informative.

"I'm all for protecting the environment -- the wildlife, the water, the birds and the forests," Meyers noted.

This 2D map, designed by Michigan Tech for Friends of the Huron Mountains, highlights in dark orange every location where at least one turbine of the proposed Summit Lake project would be visible from a spot six feet above the ground, given current forest cover, in a direct line-of-sight to the turbine nacelle hub (278 feet). Blades are not included although they extend 221 feet higher because their orientation depends on wind direction. Winter or timber clear cut views also could be possible from the lighter orange areas. Click here for a 3D virtual reality viewer.

Group leaders still urge "No" vote on May 7 Referendum

Despite the RES withdrawal announcement on April 19, the groups opposing the Summit Lake Wind project continue to encourage the residents of L'Anse Township to vote "No" in the May 7 referendum on zoning changes.

FOHM chairman Burt Mason said, "A 'No' vote will allow us all to take a deep breath and get together to update the Master Plan to reflect what the people want. What the community may lose in short-term financial gain will be more than offset by the combination of community spirit and ability in our group, who now can turn their talents to making this a better place to live and visit."

Jeffery Loman of the L'Anse Indian Reservation (KBIC) said, "The announcement by RES Americas to send the Summit Lake Wind Project to the dustbin of history is the first step in progress to promote responsible decisions that protect property values, tourism and our way of life. The next, and more important step will take place on May 7th when the power is handed to the people of L’Anse Township so they can send the zoning ordinance allowing large wind energy conversion systems to the same trash heap were it belongs."

On behalf of FOLK, Linda Rulison, FOLK president, stated, "Friends of the of Keweenaw welcome the announcement by RES to withdraw their proposal for the Huron Mountains in L'Anse Township. Through citizens' activism and self- education, it became apparent that this proposal was not about providing clean green energy and cheaper electricity to the local citizens but about a large corporation pushing their project on an unsuspecting community for their own gain. We thank L'Anse Township citizens who have put so much energy into educating all of  us. The May 7th vote gives the township the final say -- go vote!

Catherine Andrews, FOLK member and former L'Anse Township Planning Commission secretary, added, "Although we are pleased with the announcement, we are continuing to focus on the referendum vote on May 7th. We need to make sure RES, or a similar corporation, gets a clear message that we are not willing to sacrifice Mt. Arvon, Mt. Curwood, or the surrounding wildlands to destructive development."

In their July 21 Position Paper on the Summit Lake Wind project proposed by RES, addressed to the L'Anse Township Board, UPEC stressed their opposition to the project based on its proposed siting. They listed several potential negative impacts of the project -- from "large-scale short- and long-term" environmental disturbance to negative impacts on wildlife, tourism, property values, viewshed and more. They also noted "potential for wildfire caused by failure and combustion of wind turbines, which would be difficult, if not impossible, to control."**

Following the RES announcement of their withdrawal from the project, Horst Schmidt, UPEC president, said, "Corporations as well as government officials at any level need to involve and heed citizen concerns. In L’Anse Township the environment has greater value than 'imagined' tax revenues for its residents. Congratulations to our fellow activists in Friends of the Huron Mountains for their diligence and enthusiasm in fighting for our UP. We urge the citizens of L’Anse Township to vote on May 7th to secure their hard fought gains with a newly written ordinance that will allow them to decide their future."

Notes:

* For the latest information from Friends of the Huron Mountains see https://savethehuronmountains.org/

** See UPEC's July 21 Position Paper on the Summit Lake Wind project proposed by RES, addressed to the L'Anse Township Board.

*** Click here to read UPEC's response to "Services And Vibrant Economy's" mailing to local residents titled "SEEK TRUTH -- DEMAND PROOF."

****See FOHM's April 19 press release here.