My favorite car—the one I have enjoyed, savored really, the most in all my years of driving—was a bright yellow 1982 Lincoln Town Car that I bought from Ronnie Braga for $800. I bought the car in the late ’90s but it was still in great shape. It had a yellow leather interior comfortable enough (and large enough) to camp out on and a back seat and trunk that could hold a freight train’s worth of stuff. I intended to buy a small pickup for deliveries for our Main Street package store, but this car was large enough to fit a couple of kegs and a few cases of wine, a hand truck, and the kitchen sink, so I opted for utility and style. Or so I thought.
My kids called it the “Stinkin’ Lincoln,” a phrase that still elicits grins and guffaws from my now-grown children. The car was so big that one day, while heading to work, I forgot that my daughter was in the cavernous back seat. She was (and is) smart enough to know I had passed Little Kids, Inc. on my way downtown and alerted me to my oversight. I could barely see her in the rearview mirror.
I loved that car. However, I loved it so much that it may have clouded my judgment on its usefulness and cost benefit. It really didn’t fit its intended purpose. No matter how hard I tried to justify it, the Stinkin’ Lincoln simply was not an effective delivery vehicle. The vast and spacious trunk required me to literally climb inside to remove items for delivery. Driving a near 20-year-old bright yellow car did not project an image of success for a fledgling retail business. As my idea of the perfect car began to decline, the money it required for its upkeep far exceeded the benefit. In short, it became a liability, but I was too insistent on its value to see that. I finally saw the light and took it to a junkyard. I got $50 for it.
The wind turbines at Falmouth’s Wastewater Treatment Plant may just be Falmouth’s Stinkin’ Lincoln. The concepts seemed right and in conformance with good public policy at the time the turbines were erected—renewable energy, sustainability, and significant savings in energy costs—but like the fanciful image of utility and style that I conjured up about my dream car, that concept simply hasn’t produced a similar reality. Like me, the town may be infatuated with the image and idea of renewable energy, but the reality of a divided community and a project that loses $200,000 per year paints a far different—and far less encouraging—picture. Now, with the Massachusetts Appeals Court weighing in and noting that the town should have sought permits and permission from the Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals before constructing the turbines, perhaps the time has come for Falmouth’s Stinkin’ Lincoln to face the same fate as my venerable old car.
What began as a well-conceived effort to be sustainable and fiscally responsible has become one of the most contentious and divisive issues in the town’s history. After the turbines were constructed, the town worked to gather public input. Had that commitment to inclusion been present before decisions were made to purchase and erect the turbines, some of the town’s darkest days may have been avoided.
In a published statement in September of 2013 the town noted that, “The Board has an important public policy decision ahead. Whatever decision is made about the town’s two wind turbines, the Board will have to take the lead…this is clearly in the communities’ best interest and the time to act has arrived.”
Nearly two years later, the time to act has indeed arrived. The document proceeds to explain that the potential litigation liability for continued pursuit of legal appeals was estimated at $1.5 million, and the potential contractual liability for dismantling the turbines at $7 million. Both options focused entirely on the financial impacts of decision-making. Had the town focused on the human impacts of its decisions, the results would likely have been profoundly different. It’s time for the Stinkin’ Lincoln to head to the junkyard.
In January 2010, I called the construction of Wind I “the best of Falmouth” for 2009, noting that it was, “…one of the most significant achievements in the last decade locally.” I readily admit today that I was wrong. Why can’t the town?