Kirtland issue sent back to Planning Commission

By: Benjamin J. Gohs, News Editor
(231) 222-2119 

Boyne City Commissioners voted unanimously on Aug. 14 to remand the Kirtland Noise issue to the Boyne City Planning Commission for determination of whether the wood pellet manufacturer is in compliance with the requirements of its special use permit.

Boyne City Mayor Ron Grunch read from an Aug. 9 letter from Kirtland Products CEO Leon Tupper to Boyne City Commissioners stating that Kirtland had contracted with a noise mitigation firm and that they would likely have an update on mitigation efforts by Aug. 28—this was not the answer commissioners were looking for.

“I was a little disappointed … almost a little angry,” said Boyne City Commissioner Laura Sansom of Tupper’s letter to commissioners because it did not address her concerns from points in the RSG noise assessment. “I wanted to see a comprehensive plan of what you intended to do moving forward to address all the issues that were outlined for you to do.”

She added, “We spent money doing that for you and then it’s like you just took one item and are focusing on the pulsation—which you gotta start somewhere, I guess.”

In his letter, Tupper stated that Kirtland Products appreciates the assistance of Boyne City in providing the services of RSG in identifying equipment noise sources.

“The information has been helpful and we have contracted the Kodiak Group LLC to assist us in evaluating the plant air pressure and design of our air conveyance system which is identified in the RSG report as the potential cause of the tonal pulsation condition,” he stated.

Members of the public expressed concerns ranging from too much attention being paid to the pulsation and not the overall noise levels and loss of enjoyment by some property owners, to the plant’s emissions through its exhaust stacks.

“The three-step process is designed to address the most egregious concern, and we want to do that and we will do that, and upon completion make an assessment of that work,” Tupper said. “We are fully aware that the conservative standards proposed in the RSG presentation—in the absence of the city not having any standards—is obtainable. However, it would not be noticed by the citizens since the noise levels, when we are not operating, exceeds those standards.”

Tupper said Kirtland analyzed numerous cities for noise levels and none of them met the criteria laid out in the RSG study.

Kirtland officials said, concerning their plant’s emissions, they are complying with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s parameters.

Boyne City Manager Michael Cain told commissioners the city began receiving petitions on Aug. 1, urging the city to stop the noise and pollution. It should be noted that, as of the writing of this article, there have been no official claims that any pollution has occurred.

Sansom said she had expected to see a time-line and plan of action, and she was now out of patience.

“In light of all of these petitions and the people that it’s upsetting in the community you are just at odds with the community,” she said. “It’s not that I don’t have any sympathy … but it just doesn’t seem to be working.”

Boyne Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jim Baumann told commissioners Kirtland seems to have done everything the city has asked and should be given the month they requested to try any new noise mitigation efforts the Kodiak Group may have suggested.

Kirtland Products CEO Leon Tupper told commissioners he anticipates the Kodiak Group’s analysis of the plant and subsequent findings will put them in a much better position to understand the the issue and any mitigation efforts suggested.

“We want to thank the commissioners and the city and the support of the city citizens committee in helping us through this difficult phase in identifying sources of noise we could use to begin the mitigation process,” Tupper said. “Prior to that time we utilized non-scientific approaches in hopes that they would result in a satisfactory solution. Unfortunately in February of this year it did not, but we think we are much closer to a point where we have addressed the tonal pulsation issue that seems to be most prevalent.”

Cain asked Kirtland officials about the company’s anticipated operations schedule.

Tupper said he could not answer the question until he spoke with the Kodiak Group to determine what needs to be done, but that he would be able to better answer that question later on in the week.

“We’re continuing to work on it. We have not changed our purpose and mission relative to concerns that some of our neighbors have,” he said. “We’re working with suppliers to determine the availability and delivery points of the noise mitigating equpment.”
Tupper added, “Once we have those necessary pieces we will begin the process of installing and evaluating their impacts.”

Kirtland originally scheduled a date of Sept. 10 for the MDEQ to test emissions from its exhaust stacks.

“We are continuing to look at that time frame as to whether we can still make it in light of mitigating work and beginning operations in such a way as to meet criteria established by the MDEQ for valid testing.”
Boyne City Commissioner Delbert “Gene” Towne said he felt the city has done its part and that he was hoping to hear Kodiak Group’s recommendations.

Tupper said Kodiak’s analysis was received the same evening of this most recent meeting, and that he would need to read through it and get back to the city.

Boyne City Commissioner Tom Neidhamer said “patience is wearing thin” and that “time is running short.”

“Do we wait one more week … one more month?” Neidhamer said. “Or, has the road gotten so short that it’s time to send it back to the planning commission.”

Boyne City Commissioner Derek Gaylord said he has heard enough and made the motion to send the matter back to the Boyne City Planning Commission to make a ruling on whether Kirtland Products is in compliance with its special use permit.

Boyne City Mayor Ron Grunch said the city has been asked to manage “conflicting interests” including job retention and creation, quality of life and health and safety.

“It’s unfortunate things haven’t worked out per the models and the plans that were presented to us,” he said.

In response to Sansom’s concern that the process had taken too long, Tom Monley of Kirtland Products spoke regarding the time-line.

“On Dec. 17 we did our first study with the community, and by Jan. 23 we had mufflers designed and installed,” he said. “Then, on Feb. 17, the commission decided to form a citizens committee to address this issue. That took from Feb. 17 to July 17 in order to complete that process, and then from July 17 to Aug. 14 we have given out that report. We have hired an engineering firm. In a matter of a month we have done a lot to re-mediate the number one issue that’s in that report that took 22 weeks to get.”

Sansom said she does not see it that way.

“I think from the very beginning you were aware there were a lot of issues with this in the community and a lot of complaints,” she said. “It’s not like something all of a sudden you’re aware of.”

Monley said the community decided to take the path of the citizens committee.

“I just feel like it’s one small stab at the overall picture,” Sansom said.

A public hearing on the matter has been set for the Boyne City Planning Commission’s Sept. 17 meeting.

The planning commission will then review the permit to determine if conditions are being met.

Conditional use permits can be amended through mutual agreement between the planning commission and the applicant, but they can also be revoked.

During an interview following the meeting, Tupper said he felt it was the right thing for the city to send the matter back to the planning commission.

“The city commission has no authority over the conditional permit, thus it is now going to the appropriate department within the city to determine whether Kirtland is operating within compliance—we believe we are,” he said.

Tupper said solving this matter is made more complex due to a lack of sound standards within Boyne City.

“The permit does not speak to a decibel level and the city has no ordinance that quantifies noise, so it’s extremely difficult to achieve a goal that is not defined,” he said.

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