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Zone vote delayed after contentious hearing

Neighborhood opponents of a proposed zone change at the transfer station, which could facilitate a municipally owned wind turbine, came out in force against the proposal Wednesday evening. The emotionally charged meeting ended without a decision, as a shaken and battered Town Council rescheduled the matter for its next meeting on December 7. ...Marguerite Donnelly attempted to mediate during the lengthy hearing. Donnelly said at first she was elated by the idea of a turbine at the transfer station, but the concerns of the neighbors were hard to dismiss because "it's so personal for so many.

Neighborhood opponents of a proposed zone change at the transfer station, which could facilitate a municipally owned wind turbine, came out in force against the proposal Wednesday evening.

The emotionally charged meeting ended without a decision, as a shaken and battered Town Council rescheduled the matter for its next meeting on December 7.

The proposed Public Utility Zone was crafted by the Planning Board at the request of Town Council. After the first public hearing session October 5, the council sent the matter back to the Planning Board for modification. The board changed the language to allow wind turbines in the zone only with a special use permit.

But the board also said a feasibility study would be required to determine environmental impacts and if the zone would be in compliance with the town's Comprehensive Plan.

The council had hoped to rezone the site prior to spending $50,000 to $75,000 on a feasibility study. Neighbors opposed to the zone change have repeatedly called for the study to be done first.

"I didn't want the town to spend... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Neighborhood opponents of a proposed zone change at the transfer station, which could facilitate a municipally owned wind turbine, came out in force against the proposal Wednesday evening.

The emotionally charged meeting ended without a decision, as a shaken and battered Town Council rescheduled the matter for its next meeting on December 7.

The proposed Public Utility Zone was crafted by the Planning Board at the request of Town Council. After the first public hearing session October 5, the council sent the matter back to the Planning Board for modification. The board changed the language to allow wind turbines in the zone only with a special use permit.

But the board also said a feasibility study would be required to determine environmental impacts and if the zone would be in compliance with the town's Comprehensive Plan.

The council had hoped to rezone the site prior to spending $50,000 to $75,000 on a feasibility study. Neighbors opposed to the zone change have repeatedly called for the study to be done first.

"I didn't want the town to spend money on a parcel [that] zoning wouldn't allow it to be built on," First Warden Kim Gaffett said Wednesday.

West Beach Road neighbor Arlene Tunney, a leading opponent of the zone change, had a one-two punch for the town. First she made it clear the town would have to spend the money anyway if the zone was created.

"Do you want the town to spend $50,000 or $75,000 on legal fees if the neighbors appeal to Superior Court?" Tunney asked.

But when Councilor Peter Baute pointedly asked her if the legal challenge would go away if a feasibility study were favorable, Tunney equivocated.

"I can't answer for people on the deed issue," she said.

Testimony from a number of residents focused on Jack Gray's deed bequeathing the property to the town, which they said directed the town to turn the land into a park when the old landfill was capped. It has been turned into the transfer station instead.

Gaffett said she, too, had wrestled with the issue of Gray's deed. "I can read the deed in two ways," Gaffett said, tearing up.

"It puts up a caution for me, but it can go both ways. I don't want to win this battle tonight and lose in other ways fighting greedy neighbors." At one point Gaffett called for a recess in order to compose herself.

Planning Board Vice Chair Kevin Hoyt, who earlier in the evening said he helped craft the proposed change as a middle ground that addressed neighbors' concerns yet would not let the green energy proposal go down in flames, threw his support to the council after Tunney's declaration.

"If the feasibility study and the energy plan are supportive, let's go to court and fight the good fight and I'll stand behind you," he told the council. "NIMBY can't be a possibility on our tiny island."

Chris Littlefield, who works for The Nature Conservancy, called for the feasibility study and asked for it to be conducted in an "open, transparent way." He told the council members that it felt like their minds were made up, and "it's disempowering."

Second Warden Ray Torrey said that in his opinion it was the conservation groups who were being closed minded on the issue.

Marguerite Donnelly attempted to mediate during the lengthy hearing. Donnelly said at first she was elated by the idea of a turbine at the transfer station, but the concerns of the neighbors were hard to dismiss because "it's so personal for so many.

"How do you go green without making a certain group bear the burden?" she asked, stressing the burden should be shared by all and not be pushed onto those who have the least resources to fight it.

Councilor Ken Lacoste also spoke to the fears of the neighbors, and of future land donors. Gaffett replied, "maybe we have to be brave."

Councilor Dick Martin said he always thought a cable to the mainland was the answer to the island's electricity needs. "This [zoning change] is forever... a feasibility study is the best way," he said.

The chair of the School Committee, Bill Padien, brought figures. The school spends $130,000 a year on electricity, he said, a thousand dollars per student. A municipal power source would drastically reduce that cost, he said.

Baute, addressing public concerns that an offshore wind energy project would eliminate the need for a municipal one, brought three years of study from the Electric Utility Task Group to the table. He cited figures showing that National Grid had been raising rates for 10 years, and it is expected to continue to do so.

"God doesn't charge, the sun doesn't charge, the wind doesn't charge. They stay the same year after year," Baute said.


Source: http://www.blockislandtimes...

NOV 21 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/23252-zone-vote-delayed-after-contentious-hearing
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