An Almer Township family called the police on a company doing land surveying for a wind energy company and are telling their story wherever possible now.
Brian Gyurko and Aaron Gyurko, both of Almer Township, described the incident during the comment portion of a Nov. 10 public hearing held by the Almer Township Planning Commission.
The brothers later told The Advertiser they felt it was the right time to publicly announce the incident because they want people to know that they feel NextEra Energy Resources L.L.C. – and the companies representing them in Tuscola County – isn’t always the “good neighbor” officials from the company purport to be.
“We’ve been going to the regular Almer Township meetings since we’ve been seeing stuff in the paper about this kind of thing…just kind of treating everyone like they’re bumpkins just because they live in the country,” Aaron Gyurko said.
He said that’s far from the case, pointing to the Nov. 10 public hearing about the application for special land use permits filed by Tuscola III L.L.C. – a subsidiary of Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources L.L.C. The company plans to build a $200 million wind turbine project in Fairgrove, Ellington and Almer townships, and needs the special permits to do so.
At the Almer planning commission public hearing, area residents identified myriad issues with the application before the township’s own engineering firm, Spicer Group Inc., identified nearly 20 issues with it.
The public hearing ended after nearly 3.5 hours because the planning commission had a time limit on using the large cafeteria space at Caro High School.
During the meeting Ryan Pumford, project manager, NextEra Energy Resources, told the planning commission and attendees that the company sets itself apart from others through its “core values and experience.”
Pumford further highlighted NextEra Energy Resources’ approach to being “committed to excellence” while treating people with respect, and striving to “do the right thing.”
“I think our involvement with the township up until this point is reflective of these core values,” Pumford said at the meeting. “And really, this is the only way to do business, this is the only way we can sustain long-term success.”
Brian Gyurko said those claims prompted him to speak up at the meeting.
“They also said something about if your land is next to the windmills, you won’t be adversely affected,” he said. “And then all of the sudden they’re trespassing on your land and it’s like ‘What’s going on here?’…you said we weren’t going to be involved and all of the sudden we’re involved.”
The Advertiser has submitted a request for the police report filed by Michigan State Police through the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.
The incident allegedly occurred Sept. 27.
Gyurko said it was early afternoon when he looked out the window and saw someone walking down the road.
The person wasn’t hard to miss because the Gyurkos live on about 80 acres near the intersection of Darbee and Cleaver roads in Almer Township. With the exception of the few homes dotting in the area, it’s farmland.
The truck – easily identifiable with a logo for the company called Atwell – was parked close to the intersection.
Southfield-based Atwell L.L.C. has been identified as handling land acquisition for NextEra and had a presence in Tuscola County throughout the year. Dave Hollander, of Atwell, has been a regular fixture at meetings in Almer and Ellington townships, always seated next to NextEra Energy Resources’ representatives and legal counsel. He was seen appearing to video record the Nov. 10 planning commission meeting.
At the Gyurko property on Sept. 27, the Atwell worker was not only walking along the public road, but going onto private property, appearing to do some kind of surveying work.
Brian Gyurko – who took a photo of the truck for his records – said he did not give the surveyor permission to be on the family’s property.
“Around here, when people wanna use our property, they ask permission,” he said. “The DTE guy was here a couple of days ago and the first thing he did was knock on the door. He didn’t just go around to the back and start messing with the cables.
“It’s a big thing in the country,” Aaron Gyruko said.
Brian Gyurko said it was highly unusual for someone to be on the property in such a manner, and clarified that the only people other than the family who should be on the property are the farmers to whom they rent the land.
He said it isn’t uncommon for people to even ask if they can hunt in the woods at the far edge of the property, to which the answer is always no.
Brian Gyurko said he asked the man what he was doing, though he knew the man appeared to be carrying surveying equipment.
“I asked him ‘What are you doing? Who do you work for?’” he said. “I said ‘Do you work for the government? Federal? State? County? Township?’ And he said no to all of that.”
Brian Gyurko said the surveyor said he worked for a “private company” and was conducting “private business.”
“I said ‘You’re on private property and I don’t think that qualifies you to be here,’” he said.
The surveyor packed up his equipment and left, driving a short distance down the road and stopping again.
Brian Gyurko said he didn’t go far enough, though, because the surveyor proceeded to walk into the middle of the family’s 80 acres and went right back to work. Gyurko added there is no question that the surveyor was in the middle of the field and not along the edge of the road or property.
“I know where the property stakes are because I put them up this summer,” Aaron Gyurko said.
Brian Gyurko said he didn’t try to engage with the surveyor further.
“That’s when I decided I wasn’t going to confront him a second time and I called the police,” Gyurko said. “I told them that my understanding of trespassing was that you ask them to leave and if they don’t leave, then that’s when you let the cops get involved.”
Bryan Garner, manager of communications, NextEra Energy Resources, said the Atwell crew was in the township that day doing surveying work.
“They were doing boundary work on the Vollmar Farm L.L.C., which is a landowner who participates in the Tuscola III project,” Garner wrote in an email. “While working on the east line of the Vollmar parcel, a resident of the adjacent parcel (Gyurko) asked the crew to leave.”
Garner said the crew left and flagged down a Michigan State Police trooper when she was seen driving toward the property.
“The crew chief flagged the trooper down and discussed the incident with her,” Garner wrote. “She indicated she would talk to the resident.”
Brian Gyurko said he was the one talking with the officer.
“She had the attitude of ‘Just let him finish and he’ll be on his way,’” he said. “Then she wanted to debate on whether or not he was actually trespassing.”
Gyurko said he was confused by the interaction because he was the one asking for help.
“She advocated on his behalf and made every possible excuse she could think of,” he said.
Garner said NextEra Energy Resources officials instruct survey teams “to stay on land that is signed as part of the project.” He also noted that per Michigan law, surveyors are permitted to enter a parcel in order to perform surveys (provided it’s not for a building).
Still, the incident left a bad taste in the mouths of the Gyurkos, though Brian Gyurko and Aaron Gyurko said they don’t expect anything else to come of the incident.
Their hope, however, is that people will consider their experience when working or thinking about working with a wind energy company – which is why they are speaking up about it now.
“You can’t take it at face value,” Aaron Gyurko said. “You have to be skeptical about what people are saying or what people are selling you.”
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Tuscola County Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org