County officials hope to turn old landfill into solar farm to generate electricity

By Ralph Echtinaw

Having already harnessed wind power with dozens of turbines that generate electricity, Gratiot County officials now seeks to put the sun to work for the same purpose.

An 82-acre landfill in Bethany Township (north of Jackson Road and west of Croswell) is on track to become a solar power “farm,” but county commissioners must identify a company to lease the land to.

“That landfill costs us a lot of money because we have to maintain air and water monitoring, and so I would like for that to be productive to offset some of the expenses of monitoring,” said County Administrator Tracey Cordes.

“Solar is the solution,” she continued. “This (site) is just brimming with potential.”

With that in mind, Cordes invited Utopian Power President Forrest Cohen and Vice President James Makill to make a pitch to county commissioners at their Jan. 17 meeting.

Cohen said the site is great for a solar farm because there are already transmission lines in the area to service the wind turbines. He figures the proposed solar farm would generate 15 megawatts of alternating current.

“That’s the kind of generation you’re seeing a lot of these larger utilities take on, as as they’re retiring coal plants,” Cohen said.

“I have been working to get solar at the landfill for quite some time. There is a point at which one pulls the trigger and gets on with it.”

County Administrator Tracey Cordes

Utopian Power would likely pay $80,000 a year to the county to lease the landfill for 25 years, Cohen said.

“We want to provide a win-win solution for the county, the folks involved with this, Consumers Energy and everyone because there’s a good opportunity for us and hopefully the county as well,” Cohen said.

Cordes said the “next steps are to consider if there is another developer that might also be interested in the project. But we’re not going to wait around forever. I have been working to get solar at the landfill for quite some time. There is a point at which one pulls the trigger and gets on with it.”

Search for new county administrator

County commissioners rescinded their Jan. 3 vote to hire the Michigan Municipal League to search for a new county administrator to replace Cordes, who will retired at the end of next month.

The MML wanted $17,000 and would accept no less. So Cordes “went shopping” and presented commissioners with several options. The one they liked best was Municipal Services of Okemos, which costs $12,800.

“Frank Walsh has the greater, deeper experience,” Cordes said. “He’s worked with a number of public entities; more cities than counties frankly. But his very deep experience… He’s been around for a long time.”

If Walsh’s proposed schedule for the search is accurate, the job was listed on municipal sites and social media Friday, Jan. 20, three days after commissioners hired the company.

The deadline to apply is Feb. 17. Commissioners would review candidates on Feb. 20 and name four finalists that would be interviewed publicly on March 11. A final background check and contract negotiations would take one week, and commissioners could hire the new administrator on March 20.

Gratiot Community Airport

As Sentinel readers may remember, Alma and county officials have been in a bit of a standoff regarding who will run the airport following the near demise of the existing Airport Authority. 

At first, county officials wanted Alma to transfer ownership of its pieces of the airport to the county. But Alma officials balked. So commissioners offered to reverse roles and transfer the county-owned pieces of the airport to Alma. In that scenario, Alma would run the airport. 

Alma Mayor Greg Mapes said he would present the offer to his colleagues but not to expect a decision until after Jan. 1 this year. 

Now we’re three weeks into the year, and the county still hasn’t heard from Alma. So commissioners directed Cordes to write letter to Mapes and company, asking them to get off the dime. County commissioners are concerned that the airport, which operates at a loss, will burn through its savings. They fear that Alma officials might let that happen, then turn around and ask the county to run the airport.

Check out this old Sentinel story for a more comprehensive look at the airport situation.

The Heroes Center 

A non-profit entity to serve the needs of Gratiot County military veterans is set to open at 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25.

The Heroes Center is located at American Legion Post 256 on Michigan Avenue. You’ve probably driven by it and seen the prominent sign.

The mission statement of the center is “Reconnecting Veterans and their families into the community and provide direct support in their physical/mental and legal needs.”

Heroes Center Director Bret Hyble, formerly president and CEO of the Mount Pleasant area Chamber of Commerce, said the building has received new lights, fresh paint, new flooring, new entrance, new doors and a new wi-fi setup.

The center has funding to operate for two years and hopes to be self-sufficient after that.

For more information on the Heroes Center, see this August 2022 Sentinel story.

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