FALMOUTH — Town meeting approved more money Tuesday for legal fees tied to the embattled municipal wind turbines.
On the second and final night of the meeting at Falmouth High School, voters approved Article 18, a $440,000 additional appropriation for the fiscal 2017 budget. The bulk of the funding, $400,000, was to pay for outside counsel for labor, wind turbine and Conservation Commission legal services. The remaining $40,000 would hire a consultant to help the Board of Selectmen with its vision process as part of its recently adopted strategic plan.
Finance Director Jennifer Petit said the town had about $60,000 of its original $150,000 appropriation for special counsel in the current budget. Of what's needed, $260,000 is for costs tied to wind turbine lawsuits. The selectmen recently approved mediation to try to settle the bulk of the cases, but a suit brought by Barry and Diane Funfar is due to go to trial Thursday in Barnstable Superior Court. Two more cases are likely to go to trial in the spring, said Town Counsel Frank Duffy.
Despite the pending trial, the mediation has not been terminated, Duffy said.
"It may resume under appropriate circumstances when the selectmen determine that is an option," he said.
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.
Voters completed action on all 36 warrant articles by Tuesday night.
They unanimously approved nearly $4.4 million in capital improvements for the town. Among the larger items on the laundry list of projects are $225,000 to purchase a new dump truck, $100,000 to renovate the East Falmouth Fire Station and $230,000 to buy new defibrillators and heart monitors for the Falmouth Fire and Rescue Department.
Late Monday night, voters approved Article 23, a $900,000 funding request for asbestos abatement at Teaticket Elementary School. The school has been closed since August, when contractors working on a project to replace heating and ventilation units in the building disturbed ceiling tiles containing asbestos, triggering a shutdown.
Although the article funds work that already has been completed, the vote did not come without skepticism from town meeting members, who wanted to know why the initial, $300,000 estimate had tripled. Schools Superintendent Nancy Taylor said it was due to inspections from the state Department of Environmental Protection that identified more possible contamination after the initial incident. The scope of the work, which initially was limited to tiles inside the classrooms, ballooned to include replacing the metal ceiling grids in the entire building based on the possibility that they could contain asbestos dust.
"If you think about the scope ... it got bigger and bigger," Taylor said, adding that questions of liability for the asbestos work would be examined by the town's attorneys.
"You're going to have some inspectors who are going to have some answering to do to their state rep when this project is done," said state Rep. David Vieira, R-East Falmouth. Vieira also serves as town moderator.
A transfer of $710,000 left over from the Falmouth Public Library renovation, which was authorized by town meeting in 2006 and approved by town voters as a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion, will provide the bulk of the funding. The remaining $190,000 will come from the town's certified free cash.