Bonobo Winery on the Old Mission Peninsula | Jane Boursaw Photo
Bonobo Winery on the Old Mission Peninsula | Jane Boursaw Photo
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(Editor’s Note: OMP resident John Jacobs is a board member and the treasurer of Protect the Peninsula (PTP). Below, he writes on behalf of PTP, setting the record straight on misleading information about the winery lawsuit and PTP’s role in it. Read on for his thoughts. And if you’ve got something to say about the winery lawsuit or anything related to the Old Mission Peninsula, write it up and send it to me, [email protected]. Note that you may only submit opinion pieces once every 30 days. -jb)

Recently, there have been numerous social media posts and guest articles in Old Mission Gazette containing misleading assertions about the winery lawsuit and Protect the Peninsula‘s role in the suit. In case these made it to your attention, allow us to set the record straight.

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Peninsula Township Never Agreed to a Settlement

Assertion 1: There was a settlement more than two years ago that was acceptable to the wineries and Township representatives; the Township backed out of the deal at the last minute and was fined for refusing to honor their commitment.

Fact: The former Township attorney agreed to settlement terms, but NOT the Township Board. Only the Board, not the attorney, has authority to approve a settlement. The Board never backed out of a settlement because they never agreed to one. Although the Township was fined for the time and expense incurred as a result of the confusion created by the Township attorney, the Court agreed there had been no deal.

(Editor’s Note: Peninsula Township has filed a lawsuit against former Township attorneys Greg Meihn and Matthew Wise. The Township claims the attorneys engaged in legal malpractice while representing the Township during the ongoing winery lawsuit. Read more here. -jb)

Notably, Protect the Peninsula has never seen that proposed settlement. The wineries have never shown it to ANYONE publicly. The wineries should share the supposed settlement and let the public decide if it was reasonable. PTP has repeatedly asked for a copy but the wineries have refused.

The Winery Lawsuit Has Been Bolstered by PTP’s Involvement

Assertion 2: PTP’s intervention changed nothing from a legal point of view, it only delayed and increased legal costs.

Fact: Actually, because of PTP’s intervention, important legal points previously waived by the Township are finally being litigated. The case has been bolstered by facts uncovered in PTP’s discovery, like the fact that Bonobo Winery and Mari Vineyards have already been hosting commercial weddings and corporate events without permission.

And, PTP’s nationally-renowned expert on land use planning for agricultural preservation has shown that Peninsula Township ordinances are in line with other winemaking areas that face similar pressures to turn tasting rooms into wedding venues.

Since PTP’s intervention, the likelihood of the wineries’ litigation success has been greatly diminished and, with it, their odds of a huge monetary damages payout by the Township (and, in turn, its residents), unrestricted commercial events, outdoor music venues, and so on.

Covid – Not the Township – Delayed Negotiations

Assertion 3: The wineries tried negotiating with the Township; only after the Township’s refusal to move forward did the wineries bring suit.

Fact: Leading up to this lawsuit in 2019 and 2020, discussions were underway among the wineries and Township staff. But, at the onset of the COVID emergency, many Township and Town Hall functions — including these discussions — were suspended pending resumption of Township and Town Hall operations. Without notice or warning, and before the Township could schedule further meetings, the wineries sued the township.

Records from the time are clear that the Township has always been willing to sit down with the wineries to consider their interests, even after the wineries sued the Township.

Township Insurance Will Not Cover Large Damages

Assertion 4: The Township has insurance that should cover most of the damages except for legal fees.

Fact: This is untrue, and despite many efforts to correct the record, this keeps popping up. From the most recent Township Newsletter:

“In the case of very large damages claims such as those demanded by the eleven wineries, insurance coverage would be insufficient. In such cases, every property owner in Peninsula Township could be subjected to a sizeable special assessment to pay for damages not covered by insurance. The wineries seek about $200 million in damages plus a substantial amount of attorney fees. If all of these purported damages were required to be paid in a single year, it would result in a significant levy against every property in the township.”

Moreover, as erroneous as this assertion is, it is ethically misguided for anyone to imply that because the wineries would be paid from insurance, it is ok for them to make this monumental money grab.

Protect the Peninsula places a high value on facts and truth – wherever they might lead. It is distressing to see misinformation, whether arising from lack of understanding or deliberate misstatement, used in an attempt to sway public opinion.

-John Jacobs, PTP Board Member and Treasurer, writing on behalf of PTP

A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper. Because the Gazette is mainly reader-supported, I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks my way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. Check out the donation page here. Thank you so much for your support. -jb

Bay View Insurance of Traverse City Michigan

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