Outrageous. Reactionary. These are two words that come quickly to mind when reading the proposed amendment to the town of Dartmouth's wind turbine by-law.
As readers of this newspaper will recall, Town Meeting members of Dartmouth recently approved the funding for acquisition and installation of two industrial-sized wind turbines. A lawsuit was filed just prior to the vote and is still pending, questioning, among other things, whether the town violated its own bylaw in certain respects.
In effect, the lawsuit alleges, in part, that the town failed to play by its own rules. Now the shocking thing: In an effort to avoid having the town's actions scrutinized and evaluated by an independent referee, a justice of the Superior Court, the town has proposed to change the rules of the game by amending the bylaw to exempt itself from its own rules!
Sovereign immunity was a legal concept historically grounded in the notion that the king (as in medieval England) can do no wrong. Therefore the king could do whatever he wanted. The king was above the law. Modern society has recognized the concept is flawed, unfair and unjustified. In fact, the concept of sovereign immunity in Massachusetts has been abolished by statute.
Today we recognize the king can in fact do wrong and is not always right. We believe governments should be held accountable. Yet Town Meeting on June 1 is being asked to re-institute the ancient concept in order to help avoid judicial scrutiny. In its haste, the proposed amendment to the bylaw offers the potential to wreak havoc throughout the town. Why?
The bylaw amendment states, in part, that no one will need a special permit to install wind turbines, either on town-owned or even just town-leased land, regardless of who owns the turbines, so long as 50 percent of the electrical output or even just the value of 50 percent will be used by, or in some undefined manner, will "benefit" the town.
For example, should a private enterprise, like Cape Wind, decide to make Dartmouth a land-based wind farm after constructing a wind farm in Nantucket Sound, all it would need to do is have the town lease numerous parcels of land which in turn would be sublet to Cape Wind. Cape Wind would then pay rent to the town, and it could put up wind turbine after wind turbine throughout Dartmouth, so long as it arranged for the town to get a break on its electrical bills.
This is just one scenario among others. No special permits, no engineering studies, no environmental impact reviews, nothing under the bylaw would be needed!
If Cape Wind on its own bought or leased land in Dartmouth, a detailed, cumbersome and expensive permitting process crafted to protect the town's citizens would be required. The proposed amendment would remove these protections.
It is outrageous and reactionary to think that Town Meeting members might vote to open the whole town to unchecked wind turbine development merely in an effort to circumvent judicial review. Town Meeting members should vote no to this proposed amendment.