This year, the City of Newburyport, Massachusetts paved the way for large-scale wind turbines within the city limits. A three-person subcommittee was formed in January, 2008 and charged with writing an ordinance governing the siting and construction of turbines.
The city's planning director, Nancy Colbert (no longer with the City), acknowledged in the press that "The structures can be obtrusive, and that is why it is even more important for the city to weigh in."
By March 5, according to minutes of the Newburyport Planning Board, the subcommittee reported "They are trying to fast track the zoning because they are expecting a proposal to be submitted soon and would like to have a zoning ordinance in place beforehand." By April, the City amended its zoning ordinance allowing turbines up to 400-feet in height with minimum setbacks of 150 feet from abutting property lines and 300-feet from residential zoning districts.
There's no question the ordinance was "fast-tracked", and perhaps tailor made to accommodate the expected proposal. In August, the City granted a special permit for Mark Richey to erect a 292-foot wind turbine located just 319-feet from the public pedestrian rail trail, 350-feet from heavily-traveled U.S. Route 1, and 800-feet from the nearest residence. Last month, Windaction.org highlighted some of the safety risks to the public should the Richey turbine be erected.
Immediately after the special permit was granted, two families living near the project site filed an appeal seeking to have the permit overturned. With the appeal still pending, Richey announced the turbine components had been secured and construction was to begin January 5th.
Last week, one City Councilor sent a letter to fellow councilors asking that they take another look at the wind turbine ordinance stating there is "public safety concern affecting the health and welfare of our citizens with respect to industrial wind turbines" over 100 feet high. In addition, a petition containing two-hundred and seventy signatures was submitted to the Council in support of the request and the majority of residents who spoke at the December 29 Council meeting pleaded for action.
But the Council refused.
At-large Councilor Donna Holaday informed the residents that the City's attorneys advised no action due to the pending appeal. Pointing the finger of blame at all residents Holaday added "You have made a choice to file a lawsuit naming the city. We need to wait." (Only two families filed the appeal.)
Holaday's statements were grossly out of line and should outrage all citizens of Newburyport, no matter where they stand on the wind turbine issue.
Further, using the ineffectual excuse of pending litigation as the reason for delaying another look at the ordinance is unsupportable. At the point when the application for a special permit was submitted to the City, all actions pertaining to approvals and subsequent appeals became subject to the laws then on the books. Whether the ordinance were to be changed, rescinded, or a moratorium enacted, there would be no impact on how the appeal was dealt with in the courts, with one important exception and perhaps the true reason the Council is uninterested in acting now.
If the courts were to find in favor of the appellants and overturn the City's decision on the special permit, Mr. Richey's application might be subject to any new zoning changes. If the City took the time to enact even the most minor changes aimed at protecting the public, such changes could outlaw the proposed turbine, and for good reason.