DECATUR TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Voters in one Van Buren County township are outraged after the company behind a proposed solar facility is suing the municipality over an ordinance voters denied in a special election.
South of M-51 near Decatur lie rich farmlands where beans and corn roam. The Southwest Michigan Solar Project wants to convert 650 acres of it into a solar facility.
A civil lawsuit filed in Van Buren Circuit Court last week centers on the township’s solar ordinance and zoning districts, which are needed for the company’s conditional use permit application and site plan review request. Court documents say the 2022 ordinance had a misprint in the zoning district abbreviations.
A new ordinance to correct it was adopted earlier this year, but 80% of township residents voted it down in an August special election, making the facility’s permit application invalid.
“There’s got to be some recourse for the homeowners and the voters,” Decatur Township resident Christina Eyre said. “We voted no. How can they just throw our votes out?”
Citing state law, lawyers for the solar project argue “the Township should allow (the company) to proceed with (the project) under the 2022 Solar ordinance, with the … errors corrected … and without any reference to the now-defunct 2023 ordinance.”
Eyre, who lives near the site of the proposed facility, told News 8 she’s not against going solar, but is furious at how the company is going about this particular project.
“Solar has its uses. It can help homeowners,” she said. “This is industrial. It’s going to ruin that river there. It’s going to ruin our wildlife. It’s going to ruin our property values.”
The company behind the proposed facility is Savion, a Kansas City-based subsidiary of Shell New Energies, whose parent organization is the Shell oil company.
“I just don’t see how a foreign company can come in and tell the voters that we don’t care what you say, we don’t care what you vote, even though (voters) followed the letter of the law in doing all of this,” Eyre said.
Managers with the project were not available for an interview Tuesday, but their attorney said in a statement that they are only looking for the court to affirm the permit remains valid.
“Our lawsuit does not currently seek monetary damages from the Township. Instead, we are merely seeking Court confirmation that our (permit) can proceed under the 2022 solar ordinance,” the statement read. “We appreciate all of the support from the citizens and various stakeholders who have been with us since the beginning, and we will continue to strive to be a good neighbor in the community.”
Eyre rejected that claim.
“How is that working in harmony with us? Eighty percent of us said no,” she said. “Go to another town. Leave this town alone.”
Decatur Township leaders and their attorney declined to comment, but the township posted on Facebook it will have a special meeting Wednesday night regarding the litigation.
As of Tuesday, circuit court staff said there was no hearing scheduled for this case.