Traverse City Record-Eagle

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June 8, 2010

Dodd pushes vote on biomass

Suggests TCL and P return to control of city commission

TRAVERSE CITY — A former city mayor wants to give residents the right to approve or reject plans for a contentious wood-burning power plant.

Margaret Dodd recently began circulating a petition in hopes of getting a city charter amendment on the November general election ballot. The amendment would give city residents the right to vote on Traverse City Light & Power's plans for a biomass plant.

Dodd crafted a separate petition to amend the charter and bring Light & Power operations back under the city commission's control. Light & Power is run by its own seven-member board, though it once was a fully-contained city department.

Dodd, Traverse City's mayor from 2001-03, needs 566 signatures for each proposal to place them on the ballot, a figure that amounts to 5 percent of registered city voters. She and her associates are in the process of gathering signatures as fast as possible.

Light & Power board member Linda Johnson said it's best that Light & Power remain separate from city operations, and contends a vote on biomass would only further "politicize" the issue.

Dodd, a vocal opponent of Light & Power's biomass maneuvering, believes the public utility has a "pattern of behavior" that shows it's out of touch with taxpayers.

If Light & Power is returned to complete city control, commissioners would have more say in the utility's decision-making. As it stands, commissioners only have the power to approve or reject Light & Power's entire budget, its ability to issue bonds and modifications to its capital improvement plan.

Johnson contends Light & Power's board is separate by charter so they can "do the right thing" without worrying about re-election.

Dodd believes residents should have a direct say in a decision as significant as a new power plant, so a vote on the matter makes sense. Elections already are triggered by charter if the city wants to modify any of its parkland; Dodd wants the same for any significant new power development.

"None of this is revolutionary," she said. "Already if we're dealing with public parkland, it automatically goes to a vote ... If it is substantial power generation — coal, biomass, nuclear, whatever they're going to do — that should be treated as importantly to the people as parkland."

Dodd said she views the amendment as giving voters a say only if Light & Power decides to build a plant within city limits. City Attorney Karrie Zeits said she'd have to research and see if such an amendment would give voters the power to approve or reject, regardless of where the plant's built, since Light & Power is a city entity.

City Clerk Debbra Curtiss said Dodd needs to collect and submit signatures as soon as possible if she has designs on the November ballot. Signatures must be approved, ballot language must be finalized and several other steps must be taken ahead of a charter amendment vote.

Light & Power's board recently voted to pursue plans for a 10-megawatt plant. Officials for months insisted a biomass decision hadn't been made, but many in the community suggested the it was a foregone conclusion.

Light & Power wanted to build the plant on a site off Parsons Road on the city's east side, but that site was nixed after officials determined its proximity to Cherry Capital Airport meant the plant could cause problems for air traffic control.

Utility officials said they are searching for other possible building sites.

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