Challenges to the proposed Gotion electric-vehicle battery plant in Mecosta County continue to mount. On Monday, a nonprofit opposition group challenged the validity of the Green Charter Township Board’s Development Agreement with Chinese battery company Gotion, Inc.

The issue is whether the township board violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act when it entered into the agreement with Gotion.

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Dubbed “Project Elephant,” the proposed plant promised an estimated 2,350 workers with $715 million from the taxpayer-funded Michigan Strategic Fund and approximately $1.14 billion in state and local incentives, which included a 30-year tax abatement. The total outlay for the facility is projected to reach $2.4 billion.

But Project Elephant soon encountered headwinds emanating from the local population.

Among the many concerns raised were Gotion’s connections to the Chinese Communist Party and the proposed plant’s proximity to the National Guard facility in Grayling. Additionally, it was revealed Dale Jernstadt, at the time a Green Township trustee, owned a 72-acre plot of land he purchased with a $180,000 mortgage in 2012. If Jernstadt were to receive a waiver from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development that prevented him from selling the property for nonagricultural purposes until December 2027, he would be able to net a healthy profit by selling the property to Gotion.

Angry residents recalled all five township board trustees last November.

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It’s the hope of the Mecosta Environmental and Security Alliance that the new board will be more receptive to the environmental and security concerns of Mecosta County residents.

In their letter to the Green Charter Township Board on Monday, they wrote:

“The purpose of this letter is to advise the board of our belief that the Development Agreement between Green Charter Township and Gotion, Inc., signed August 22, 2023, was improperly executed, and as such the document is void.”

The letter recounts events that occurred at an August 1, 2023, public meeting in which the board agreed then Supervisor James Chapman should proceed with discussions with Gotion before a final agreement was drafted.

“There was an expectation that a ‘final’ Development Agreement would be presented at a future public meeting for board discussion, public comment and a board decision,” the MESA letter reads. “Regrettably that did not happen.”

Instead, MESA continued: “On August 22, 2023 the Development Agreement was signed by then Supervisor James Chapman and then Clerk Janet Clarke. According to the Open Meetings Act, decisions and discussions of the board must occur during open meetings. The finalized Development Agreement was never discussed, decided or voted in a public meeting. Additionally, the general public was denied their right to address the board and make public comments regarding the final Development Agreement,” they wrote.

In response to a media request from The Midwesterner, MESA emailed prepared responses.

“The purpose of the Open Meetings Act is to ensure openness, transparency, and accountability with a public body,” they said. “MESA believes the Open Meetings Act was violated when the prior Green Charter Township Supervisor and prior Clerk signed a finalized Development Agreement which had not been read, discussed, or voted on in a public meeting. It appears the township also denied the citizens’ rights to make public comments regarding the final Development Agreement with Gotion.”

The emailed remarks continued: “There are several potential ramifications. Our understanding is that Gotion is required to have a Development Agreement in place with Green Charter Township to be eligible for $125 million in CIP grant funding. MESA is confident the new Green Charter Township board will take the appropriate steps to address this important issue regarding the proposed Gotion facility.”