WISCONSIN TOWN COUNCIL PLACES PRIOR RESTRAINT ON POLITICAL SPEECH
Via The New American
By Joe Wolverton II
January 9, 2012
According to the latest census, there are fewer than 2,000 people living in Morrison, Wisconsin. There are at least 10 times that many cows.
A drive along any one of the country roads criss-crossing rural Brown County reveals one after the other of the area's many family-owned dairy farms (mega farms are still the minority). In fact, Brown County, home to Morrison, is one of America’s largest dairy-producing regions. Such pleasant landscapes are common to most of the surrounding communities dotting this rolling prairie of bucolic midwestern hamlets that are home to the salt of the earth.
Hidden from sight, however, is the petty tyranny of the Morrison Town Board and its egregious agenda of quashing the freedom of speech. This ham-fisted oligarchy is threatening to stain the idyllic tapestry woven by generations of good, law-abiding citizens and muzzle their ability to have a say in the making of the laws that govern them.
So constitutionally offensive are the recent policy positions taken by the Town Board, there is a distinct possibility that legal challenges could bring down serious repercussions upon some members of that council.
The dramatic and despotic story so far is astounding to rehearse. Records of the Morrison Town Board show that in April and July of 2006 the subject of creating a new wind ordinance was discussed by the members of the board. By August 2006, a Chicago-based wind developer, Invenergy
, officially requested a permit for erecting a meteorological tower to test wind strength and consistency.
Over the next two and a half years, the town’s Plan Commission, following the advice of Town Chairman Todd Christensen, worked closely with representatives of Invenergy to draft a new wind ordinance that would grease the skids for the construction of the Ledge Wind Energy Project.
As reported by the Green Bay Press Gazette on March 17, 2007, “Koomen [Morrison Zoning Administrator] said a representative of a wind energy firm has been attending the wind ordinance meetings and providing input.”
After years of back-room brokering and back scratching, the Town Board of Morrison finally went public with Invenergy’s scheme to build 100 400-foot wind turbines in Morrison and three adjacent townships — Glenmore, Wrightstown, and Holland. Additional details of the surreptitiously formed proposal (arranged without adequate public notice of the magnitude of the project) revealed plans to locate 54 turbines in the 6 x 6 mile area of Morrison; of those, 27 would be hosted by Morrison town officials or their family members who had earlier in 2009 and 2008 signed contracts with Invenergy guaranteeing their participation in the project.
It is not difficult to figure out why these sweetheart deals would be so attractive to local leaders and their families. Every landowner hosting an Invenergy wind turbine would be paid an estimated $8,000 to $12,000 annually per turbine for 30 years.
By May 2008, town residents were beginning to realize the extraordinary depth of the cozy relationship built over the past couple of years between town officials and Invenergy. Not once did these elected leaders consult with citizens before setting off down the path of partnership with a corporation whose product demonstrably and irreparably harms individual and property rights.
In response to this official disregard, concerned residents of Morrison formed an association aimed at increasing public awareness of the potential damage to health and property associated with construction of the wind farm. At town meetings attended by members of the group, discussions between themselves and the board members who had colluded with Invenergy grew increasingly contentious, as video recordings of the proceedings reveal.
As awareness spread, opposition to the turbines grew and town officials responded by attempting to limit free speech by severely restricting the size of BCCRWE anti-wind turbine signs. In order to force opponents to remove the signs, Town Chairman Todd Christensen decided to classify signs regarding wind development as “political signs,” same as those covering elections, which the town already restricted as to location, size, and duration, thus relieving the Town Board of the onerous task of passing a new ordinance or rewriting the previous one.
Next, in May 2010, in order to compel obedience to his decrees, Christensen hired a “code enforcer” to cruise around town issuing citations of $10 to $200 a day per sign to those citizens defying the “political sign” restrictions.
The aftermath of all this now sees Town of Morrison officials exhibiting what seems to be unhinged recriminations and ongoing harassment of townsfolk who oppose the wind issue.
In fact, as part of the town’s vendetta the Plan Commission has drawn up various unconstitutional proposals to completely eradicate yard signs altogether.
Initially the Plan Commission wanted to set back all political signs 25 feet off the right of way, which would put some signs on front porches and barely readable at 55 mph. They also attempted to limit the size and number of political signs — one per candidate — and wondered about declaring them nuisances and worthy of disorderly conduct charges for being “annoying, disturbing, or derogatory.”
So, the self-interested Town Board of Morrison, Wisconsin, has carpet bombed the wind farm opposition leaving as collateral damage a severely abridged right of free speech.
The current draft for amending Morrison’s sign ordinance, that is set to be voted on by the Town Board in early January contains this section:
2. Political message: A message intended for a political purpose or a message which pertains to an issue of public policy of possible concern to the electorate, but does not include a message intended solely for a commercial purpose.
Such a measure is constitutionally noxious as will be indicated by the following history of Supreme Court decisions on the matter of suppressing speech through the outlawing of yard signs.
In 1994, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously overturned a restrictive yard sign ordinance passed in Ladue, Missouri. In the case of City of Ladue v. Gilleo
, the court held that residential yard signs were “a venerable means of communication that is both unique and important.” Speaking for the Court, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote:
Displaying a sign from one’s own residence often carries a message quite distinct from placing the sign someplace else, or conveying the same text or picture by other means.... Residential signs are an unusually cheap and convenient form of communication. Especially for persons of modest means or limited mobility, a yard or window sign may have no practical substitute.... Even for the affluent, the added costs in money or time of taking out a newspaper advertisement, handing out leaflets on the street, or standing in front of one’s house with a handheld sign may make the difference between participating and not participating in some public debate.
The high court’s decision in the Gilleo
case has been followed repeatedly by lower courts considering the issue. In Curry v. Prince George’s County
(1999), a federal district court in Maryland threw out a sign ordinance limiting the placement of political campaign signs in private residences. “There is no distinction to be made between the political campaign signs in the present case and the ‘cause’ sign in City of Ladue
,” the court wrote. “When political campaign signs are posted on private residences, they merit the same special solicitude and protection established for cause signs in City of Ladue
Earlier, in the case of Arlington County Republican Committee v. Arlington County
(1993), the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated a county law imposing a two-sign limit on temporary signs for each residence. The court noted that “the two-sign limit infringes on this speech by preventing homeowners from expressing support for more than two candidates when there are numerous contested elections.”
Given the clarity of the foregoing judicial decisions, one wonders if perhaps the members of the Town Board of Morrison, Wisconsin, are unfamiliar with the federal court decisions striking down ordinances similar to the one they have imposed by fiat on the citizens of that small town. Or whether, alternatively, they may be receiving inferior legal counsel from opportunistic attorneys they hired to zealously represent their interests in perpetuating the sign-placement ordinance and the punishment of those who dare to resist their will.
Whatever the cause of the continuing corruption and assault on core constitutional liberties, it is certain that representational government has been marginalized in the town of Morrison, leaving hard-working, law-abiding tax payers locked out of the decision-making process and left subject to dictatorial town officials who have anointed themselves the ultimate and unchallenged arbiters of all that is best for Morrison and its citizens.
NOTE FROM THE BPWI RESEARCH NERD:
What was the real reason Invenergy backed out of the project?
There is was no 'regulatory uncertainty' for Invenergy when it came to this project because it was over 100 megawatts.
When a project is that big it's the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) not local government that has approval. The PSC has never yet met a wind project it didn't like and has said yes to all who have applied.
Word has it that the real reason Invenergy pulled out was because they were unable to to find a utility that would agree to purchase the power or the project.
WIND OPPONENTS QUESTION MITIGATION WHILE GMP KEEPS BUILDING
By Laura Carpenter
Via The Newport Daily Express, newportvermontdailyexpress.com
January 11, 2012
“Mitigation, metaphorically, is a bit like a surgeon cutting off your right arm but assuring you that he or she will see to it your left arm remains protected for the rest of your life. Your right arm, meanwhile, is still gone. Yes, GMP has secured conservation easements from a few area landowners by paying them a ton of money and arranging creative land swaps. The moose, deer, bear, bobcat, grouse, fisher, et al, were apparently not consulted. Such action does not assure existing habitat connectivity or cushion the overall effects of fragmentation of what was an intact montane ecosystem. The right arm is still missing, lost in the clear-cutting and blasting,”
LOWELL, VT – Work on Green Mountain Power’s (GMP) controversial Lowell Mountain wind turbine project will continue through the winter, although some of the activity will subside and pick up again in the spring. The lack of snowfall has allowed for some of the construction work to continue further than expected.
Road building, blasting and excavation continue along the ridgeline, according to Dorothy (Dotty) Schnure with GMP. Concrete foundation work began this week on the collector substation, which is located halfway up the access road on Lowell Mountain. Construction of the collector substation on the mountain will continue. In addition crews are preparing to set poles for the overhead collector line, which will carry power from the underground electric lines on the ridge to the substation.
The project involves the construction of 21 industrial size turbines and upgrades to the Vermont Electric Cooperative transmission system between Jay and Lowell.
GMP has all necessary pre-construction permits and has met all required pre-construction conditions placed on it by state regulators.
One of the requirements set by the Public Service Board (PSB) was to obtain easements of “adequate size and location” to address fragmentation of habitat caused by the project. The wind project impacts 159 acres on the Lowell Mountains. In late December, the PSB approved GMP’s proposal to conserve approximately 1,600 acres of wildlife habitat in Eden.
“The conserved land provides for important habitat to offset the overall project effects and provides connectivity to other conserved lands. This level of mitigation is unprecedented in Vermont,” said Mary Powell, President and CEO of GMP in a written statement.
In addition to the two parcels just approved for conservation in Eden, GMP has also conserved approximately 1,070 acres on Lowell Mountain. Of these acres, 778 acres will be conserved in perpetuity (forever) and another 292 acres will be conserved for the life of project plus 25 years.
Vermont Agency of Natural Resources attorney Jon Groveman, in a letter filed with the PSB, said the conserved land on either side of East Hill Road helps maintain the ecological and landscape connectivity that currently exists between the Lowell Mountain Habitat block and the Green River Reservoir habitat block.
But not everyone agrees that the easements make up for the loss, including Steve Wright of Craftsbury, a former Vermont Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife.
“Mitigation, metaphorically, is a bit like a surgeon cutting off your right arm but assuring you that he or she will see to it your left arm remains protected for the rest of your life. Your right arm, meanwhile, is still gone. Yes, GMP has secured conservation easements from a few area landowners by paying them a ton of money and arranging creative land swaps. The moose, deer, bear, bobcat, grouse, fisher, et al, were apparently not consulted. Such action does not assure existing habitat connectivity or cushion the overall effects of fragmentation of what was an intact montane ecosystem. The right arm is still missing, lost in the clear-cutting and blasting,” Wright said.
Still under dispute is a section of land where the crane path for the wind project is built. Shirley and Don Nelson, adjacent property owners, say the land is really theirs. But Trip Wileman, the property owner leasing to GMP, says it is his. The issue is in court but has not been decided.
“It is unconscionable that Judge Maley continues to hold that case while GMP destroys what is likely to be ruled the Nelson property. Actually, I guess GMP has already destroyed it, so maybe it’s only an issue of determining a compensatory value,” Wright said.