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When it comes to getting major municipal projects approved at town meeting, Eastham looks a lot more like struggling Julio Lugo than Red Sox batting leader Kevin Youkilis.
Three major municipal projects – a four-turbine wind farm, a 250-space parking lot and oceanside beach, and a $75 million municipal water system – are all in holding patterns through a combination of negative town meeting votes, pending litigation, and/or determined opposition.
Major projects often require a two-thirds vote at town meeting, and that can be the choke point for a project, particularly in the face of a determined opposition.
Selectman Ken Collins, in his 18th year on the job, was disappointed when both the beach proposal and a plan for municipal water failed a two-thirds vote by slim margins.
“You have to have an airtight case when you present it because (the two-thirds vote) is a tough sell, a real tough sell,” Collins said. This is especially true, he said, when a small but determined nucleus of people doesn’t want to pass anything.
“There are people who don’t want anything to happen in Eastham,” he said. “They’ll defeat everything they can.”
Joan Sullivan worked for five years as a committee member on the town’s Ocean Beach proposal. Besides the failed town meeting vote, opponents have also tied up the project with two lawsuits brought against the Cape Cod Commission and the town conservation commission.
“The people who live in the (Cape Cod National Seashore) maybe think of themselves as a separate part of this town,” said Joan Sullivan. “They say this is my turf and I don’t want to change it.”
Pam Nobili, who lives in the Seashore, admitted she was one of those suspicious of change. But, she said, that shouldn’t discount her opinion that some things, like a new beach, are not needed, and that others, like an expensive municipal water project, need to be carefully considered.
Pam Carlo is an abutter and vocal opponent of the wind turbine project.
“We’re sacrificing a lot. It will take away the rural atmosphere of this town,” she said.
She doubts turbines are the answer to America’s or the town’s energy problems and thinks the town’s plan to erect large structures was overstated, especially given the aesthetic impact.
The selectmen have convinced opposing sides in the wind turbine project to work together on a committee to draft a commercial wind turbine citing bylaw. Selectman David Schropfer is optimistic that it will go before voters next spring.
And he believes the municipal water project will pass at a town meeting this fall if town officials give a clear presentation that answers the questions that befuddled some voters at the spring town meeting.
“If you don’t have the answer right on hand, you lose voters,” he said.
Schropfer agreed there is a conservative nucleus in town opposed to change, but said that isn’t anything new.
“For a century and a half rural towns have a tendency to want to stay rural,” he said. “We need to be very sensitive to this community. We’re not Hyannis, Quincy or Boston.”
By Doug Fraser
16 July 2007
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