Westport – The Board of Selectmen finally approved the Town Hall wind turbine Tuesday, but it wasn’t without enough tension to make one expert walk out of the room and cause a selectman to curse in frustration.
If the debate was heated all along, it came to a boil Tuesday.
“Welcome to Westport … wonderful Westport,” Selectmen Chairwoman Veronica Beaulieu said sarcastically to Ron DiPippo, chairman of the Dartmouth Alternative Energy Committee, who was called in by the board to present a case against the turbine.
DiPippo agreed to attend the meeting but said last week he didn’t want to get involved in the debate. “You can understand my reluctance,” he told the board Tuesday. “I certainly expected this.”
“We don’t want a tense debate,” Beaulieu said. There was plenty of emotion, though. The Westport Alternative Energy Committee organized close to 60 supporters to stand outside Town Hall before the meeting with pro-turbine signs, and the supporters so crowded the room that more than a dozen had to leave the meeting room to avoid exceeding capacity.
The group that left went down to the Town Hall’s basement and watched the meeting on TV in the employee break room, taking drinks and not picking up after themselves, town employees said. Though it’s not the first time citizens have used the break room, the room will now be locked.
DiPippo walked out of the room after Selectman Steven Ouellette took a stab at Dartmouth’s budget issues. “All Dartmouth wants to do is study, study, study and turn off the streetlights,” Ouellette said.
“Come on, let’s get out of here,” DiPippo told his wife before they stormed out.
Beaulieu apologized to DiPippo when the meeting had to be delayed while people left to meet capacity and when he was at times interrupted. The board voted 4-1, with Ouellette against, to send a letter to DiPippo thanking him for attending the meeting and apologizing for the atmosphere.
“He shouldn’t have to put up with this bulls–t,” Selectman Gary Mauk said.
The letter to DiPippo apologizes for “the rude and obnoxious reception” during the meeting.
“I promised that the meeting would not turn into a debate,” Beaulieu said in the letter, “and then was blindsided into hearing yet another set of unknowns from the Westport ‘experts.’”
Mauk, who often made it clear he would not support the turbine and called it “a toy,” has been a target of jeers from turbine supporters, who at meetings occasionally made remarks from the back of the room when the selectman spoke out against the project. “Don’t Mauk Up Our Future,” one sign at the turbine rally said.
After Richard Botelho, a turbine supporter and critic of the selectmen, spoke about honoring the will of the voters and of the history of town meetings, Selectman J. Duncan Albert responded, “I don’t need a civics lesson.”
The wind turbine isn’t the only thing to bring a tense and sometimes heated environment to selectmen meetings.
In May, the board voted to dissolve the Conservation Commission, later rescinding the vote but continuing to seek removal of commission members. In July, the Housing Partnership Committee had only two of its five members reappointed one day before the committee was scheduled to hear a final presentation on the proposed housing development Noquochoke Village.
Both votes were unpopular with the meeting-going crowd. In June, a petition began circulating to drop the number of selectmen from five to three to limit the board’s power, its organizers said, but not enough people signed.
Beaulieu has had to pound her gavel a lot over the past few months to bring order to meetings where the turbine has been debated. Former Selectwoman Marjorie Holden and Lino Rego, who ran for selectman last spring, two regulars at Board of Selectmen meetings, both chided the crowd for being disrespectful, they said.
“They were very rude,” Holden said later. “Here we invited a man to the meeting and he was completely ignored. The selectmen let the salesmen take over, who were trying to sell the turbine.”
Rego later said the way DiPippo was treated was “uncalled for,” and he apologized to DiPippo after he left following Ouellette’s comment.
“To insult the gentleman like that,” Rego said, “that insulted the whole town of Dartmouth and is not a way an elected official should act. I believe he owes the gentleman an apology.
“It’s a black eye for Westport. It was completely out of line.”
Holden, who sits in the front row for all selectmen meetings, said she was very disappointed and upset at how some of the townspeople acted. She was “very ashamed” at how DiPippo was treated “horribly,” she said.
“Dartmouth is one of our neighbors and we invited him, then he was so badly treated,” Holden said. “It was like a mob. Rather than a mob, we can do it morally, the right way, not just come in on another meeting and take over. It’s like a mob rule and we don’t need that in Westport.”
By Grant Welker
14 October 2007
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