Rochester Township election heats up to save great blue heron nests

(ABC 6 News) – local Rochester Township election usually known for being small, may have a larger turnout than usual Tuesday night after some controversy surrounding great blue heron nests, also known as a rookery.

Township supervisor seat two is up for election. Brian Mueller currently holds the seat and has been in the position unchallenged for 18 years.

"Some of the residents are really frustrated about the rookery, and my seat just happens to be up right now," Mueller said.

He has two challengers this year. Both are concerned about the unique blue heron nests because they’re in danger of being destroyed by a new building development. The candidates feel the township board should have listened to the community more before approving the development.

"There’s a lot more development going on throughout the years – especially the last few years I feel – and that it’s actually deteriorated some of the natural beauty of Rochester," said Nathan Smischney, one of the candidates.

Both candidates also think the township board should focus more on thinking critically about land use and conserving natural open spaces in the community.

"We’re smarter than this as a community. I believe that we should be able to come up with a way to have a place to build homes and save a natural treasure like this," said Nathan Clarke, the other candidate.

Mueller said the board’s primary focus is keeping roadways safe and clear, and managing township equipment like plowing.

"Planning and zoning is not the main function of the township," he emphasized.

Nonprofit group Save the Rookery is not allowed to officially endorse any particular candidate, but group members individually are excited that these two candidates are going to look into saving the nests.

"You know you don’t realize what you have until it’s gone," said Michael Melford, a National Geographic photographer and advocate for Save the Rookery.

About half of the nests have been chopped down ahead of development. Save the Rookery is frustrated that the board isn’t looking at environmental impacts.

"They approved the development without so much as recognizing us at all," Melford said.

Voting is open at Rochester Township Hall until 8pm Tuesday night.