Donald Cardinal has seen a variety of changes in his neighborhood since he built a home 44 years ago on the unpaved Little Bay Road.
The town’s waste-water treatment facility in the rear, the Phoenix bike path to the north and the incredible commercial development on nearby Route 6 are just some of those changes.
The biggest change is yet to come, he says: the installation of two 396-foot turbines on forested town land about 800 feet from his home.
“It’s a beautiful area and to plant these two generators there is going to take away some of the character,” Mr. Cardinal said Friday.
Most in the neighborhood are uneasy about the turbines – and the issue took the forefront in town politics when attorney Ann Ponichetera DeNardis ran for the Board of Selectmen.
Led by Mrs. DeNardis, neighbors signed a five-page petition asking Town Meeting to vote the proposal down last Tuesday. A raucous Town Meeting decided otherwise, supporting the renewable energy project seen by most as a benign way to help the town’s economy and the environment.
But negative feelings run high.
“They’re hurt, in a way, because there’s sacrifice,” Mr. Cardinal said. “They felt they were sold out.”
Four days after the rancorous town meeting, a mighty wind still blows through Fairhaven over the turbines.
It’s gotten ugly: neighbors pitted against each other, friends not speaking and discussion around turbines generating heated energy.
Still, contentious issues have been the norm in Fairhaven in recent years.
“The town is really split, and there is a lot of animosity,” said Town Meeting member Dawn Devlin. “It’s really, really bad for the town.” She is opposed to the Little Bay wind project, as is the WindWise Fairhaven group.
“This is not a compromise issue. It’s either yes or it is no,” said Shane Sher, who is not a Town Meeting voter but followed the issue closely. “The people that are against it are still going to be upset.”
Mr. Sher’s wife, Ann Richard, led the pro-wind campaign and is now seen as persona non grata by the opposition.
During more than three hours Tuesday, Town Meeting members shouted on one side or the other and were shouted at by the opposing side. Faces grew red when they tried to address the floor or votes were taken. One-sided discussions carried on for inordinate amounts of time. Others were prevented from talking at all.
Confusion often reigned.
The rules of decorum didn’t apply many times.
At one point, Town Meeting member Eric Dawicki went to the microphone to ask Town Meeting to keep decorum.
He was stopped by Town Moderator Brian K. Bowcock for saying the CCI Energy wind proposal “smells like a rat.” Mr. Bowcock said that was an inappropriate comment.
It nearly came to fisticuffs, but no one had to be dragged out of Town Meeting by police. That’s happened in the past.
“It was actually ridiculous. I’ve never seen anything like this happen,” Mrs. Devlin said.
“It was just, like, no respect,” Mr. Cardinal said. “Towards the end it was awful.”
Since Town Meeting voters supported the article that opens the way for the largest wind-power project in the state, the dust is still far from settling.
It is a town divided over the issue and Tuesday’s meeting may have made it all worse.
“In small towns like Fairhaven, when you have tough issues there seems to be a lot of emotion that seems to be driving issues,” Mr. Dawicki said Thursday. He opposed the turbines.
The issue was divisive before Town Meeting. Last Saturday a group of residents travelled to Hull to view wind turbines in that town.
Some residents refused to ride in the bus with their opposition. Instead they drove themselves.
The scars are running even deeper now.
Mrs. Devlin now declines to serve on the same town Democratic Committee she had just been appointed to because its members are wind supporters. She said she considers them her foes after they accused her of not being environmentally friendly.
“I was excited to go;, I was excited to take to part in the Massachusetts convention. I’m not going. I could not go with those people. I’m really, really saddened. I’m so hurt,” she said.
Mr. Bowcock said wounds are very apparent.
“There’s some hurt feelings,” he said. “There is a small group that is divided.” Mr. Bowcock was a target of the wrath of WindWise and other Town Meeting members after Town Meeting.
“The way it was managed by the moderator could have been handled a little bit differently,” Mr. Dawicki said.
Members of WindWise have accused Mr. Bowcock of not following parliamentary procedures. Critics said he also got in a heated debate with Mrs. DeNardis over the validity of several petition articles.
“The rules were followed to the “˜T,'” Mr. Bowcock said.
WindWise members also said Mr. Bowcock shouldn’t be moderator, since he is a sitting selectman who supports the CCI Energy wind project.
“It is completely legal,” Mr. Bowcock said. “It was checked out with the Ethics Commission the day after I was elected.”
He also said all parliamentary rules were followed and that petition articles were either ruled out of order (and therefore couldn’t be amended) or indefinitely postponed.
The animosity between friends and neighbors, the Wild West-type atmosphere at Town Meeting floor and the colossal fault line between the two sides of the issue aren’t new in Fairhaven, a town historically marked by divisiveness.
In recent memory, the construction of the Phoenix Bike Path, now loved by most, brought up deep disagreements, and even lawsuits, just 10 years ago.
The repeated and failed efforts to build a sludge treatment plant in town are another example of infighting. So is the recent fight about efforts to fund the School Department’s budget.
“Every large project that happens in Fairhaven becomes this contentious,” Mr. Sher said. “There are fights, there are arguments. Change in Fairhaven doesn’t come easily.”
An observer of town politics for 15 years, Mr. Sher said he remembers people being dragged outside Town Meeting floor by police. Mr. Cardinal of Little Bay has seen it, too.
In the end, life continues.
“The adults will (move on),” Mr. Cardinal said.
“I hope the community learns to work better together,” Mr. Dawicki said.
“I think that things will heal; this will change,” Mr. Sher said.
“Democracy is about debate and argument. Agreement is not democracy.”
By Joao Ferreira
18 May 2007