SAVOY – After months of waiting for the town to draft its wind-turbine bylaws, Minuteman Wind decided to speed up the process – with a decision of its own.
At last night’s Selectman meeting, Donald McCauley, the president of Waltham-based Minuteman Wind, announced that the company would “circulate a petition” that would propose to make a model wind-turbine bylaw, recently drafted by the state’s Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, into Savoy’s wind-turbine bylaws.
The petition, which would require the signature of 10 registered voters in Savoy to be valid, could potentially override the bylaw currently being drafted by the town’s Planning Board.
For McCauley, the slow process means a loss of precious time.
“It troubles us when you get into the process of a year lost in development,” he told the 16 townspeople in attendance at the meeting. “It’s counterproductive. We were gratified to hear that (the state) created these bylaws. We’re trying to simplify the process.”
The process in question is a proposal, made by Minuteman Wind in 2005, to erect five 420-foot wind turbines on West Hill in Savoy.
The proposal – like many other proposed wind projects in the state – became a controversy that polarized Savoy’s townspeople.
Selectman Joseph Bettis Jr. cited a questionnaire the town mailed to its residents in 2004, long before Minuteman Wind entered the picture; he said 83 percent of the townspeople “were in favor of wind.”
There are those in Savoy who see wind power as the answer to both fossil fuel consumption and high property taxes, and there are those who see the mammoth turbines as an intrusion on what they felt was the real number one natural resource in Berkshire County: a beautiful view.
“The height of the turbines seems to be the biggest issue,” Bettis said. “Everyone is concerned about the visual impact.”
He added that the town’s government was trying to keep an even-handed approach to the touchy issue.
“We’re entertaining (the proposal),” he said to McCauley. “That’s why you’ve been here for a year and a half.”
McCauley agreed that the height of the newest turbines “hits a raw nerve with the town,” but he noted that the older turbines – which are about 350 feet in height – are “not feasible” today.
In its most current draft, the bylaws written by Savoy’s Planning Board have placed a limit of 350 feet on wind turbines.
“The new commercial turbines are built much higher,” McCauley said.
The state’s model bylaw, however, has a height restriction of 400 feet, and McCauley said he wasn’t “entirely happy” with that limitation.
“I hope we can live with it,” he added.
He also noted that Minuteman Wind was talking with the manufacturer of the turbines, trying to figure out if a special model can be made.
“We’re not stuck in stone with 420 feet,” he said.
Planning Board Chairman Jamie Reinhardt, for his part, had misgivings of his own about the state’s model bylaw.
“It provides a lot of wiggle room,” he said of the model. “It doesn’t have a lot of specifics like we have in our own bylaw.”
Reinhardt also said the town’s bylaw was “90 to 95 percent done,” and the town was trying to arrange a trip to see an actual wind farm in action.
“With no disrespect to the Planning Board, we’re going to make a good faith effort to move forward,” McCauley said.
McCauley expected to circulate the petition in about two weeks, and if 10 names are secured, the Select Board and the Planning Board would then be able to make amendments and approve the bylaw. Only then would the bylaw be ready for a vote from the town – and a two-thirds majority would be needed for final approval.
“All in all, it’s a three- to four-month process,” McCauley said. “But we think it’s important. We’re anxious to get going.”
Will there be windmills spinning in Savoy in 2007?
Steven Weisman of Minuteman Wind said no.
“But there could be a bylaw by summer,” he added. “And then we could apply for a special permit (to erect the turbines).”
Was he tired of waiting for the town? No, again.
“But it’s become so open-ended,” he said. “It’s time to put some closure on this.”
By Jessica Willis, Berkshire Eagle Staff
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