Selectmen authorize town officials to begin mediation talks with neighbors
FALMOUTH — The town will begin talks with neighbors of two municipal wind turbines in an attempt to find a solution to the nine lawsuits pending in various courts over the operation of the machines.
On Monday night, Board of Selectmen Chairman Doug Jones announced that the board had voted in a closed-door session to authorize Town Manager Julian Suso, Town Counsel Frank Duffy and the town's insurer — the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association — to begin mediation with all the parties in pending litigation to resolve outstanding legal actions, which include claims of zoning violations, emotional distress, nuisance and property devaluation.
Various paths to a "global solution” of the multiple lawsuits have been floated by residents over the years, said Westboro attorney Christopher Senie, who represents many neighbors of the turbines. But this is the first time the town has expressed an interest in such a discussion, he said.
“We've been hoping for this,” he said. “We would certainly go into it with the view that we can get there.”
Suso declined to elaborate on what led the selectmen to pursue mediation, although he said the focus has recently turned to that option.
The twin, 397-foot-tall turbines at the town's Blacksmith Shop Road wastewater treatment facility have been a source of controversy since they were installed. Neighbors have complained about health effects from their operation and have tried a number of avenues to shut them down, while the town has warned of dire financial consequences if either turbine is deactivated. The town has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees for outside attorneys to handle much of the related legal work; it has also lost revenue that was to come from the sale of electricity from the turbines.
The town has been playing defense on turbines for more than a year, since the state's Appeals Court ruled that Wind 1, which began to operate in March 2010, should have received a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals before it was constructed. The turbine was shut down in September after the zoning board issued a cease-and-desist order; it subsequently denied the permit application in April, and the town is appealing that decision in the state's Land Court.
Wind 2, which was turned on in February 2012, continues to spin under a curtailed operation plan per a November 2013 order by Barnstable Superior Court Judge Christopher Muse. The turbine can run 12 hours a day, six days a week and must be shut down on certain holidays.
The first step will be for all sides to agree on a mediator to lead the talks and to establish a framework going forward. Senie said Tuesday he had not received any communication from the town following Monday's Board of Selectmen meeting, although he expected to receive a letter from them in the near future.