SAVOY – A public hearing ended in a yelling match Thursday night, after a two-hour discussion about a proposed zoning bylaw, which would allow developers to build wind turbines in Savoy by special permit.
Resident Marshall Rosenthal, whose comments made him appear skeptical about the proposal, refused to stop raising his hand when town officials attempted to draw the meeting to a close.
“I will not put my hand down until I’m recognized,” Rosenthal said, raising his voice after Selectman Joseph Bettis Jr., who was standing in as moderator, asked him to put it down.
Emotions seemed to spike among a handful of the nearly 80 residents who attended the meeting. Most of those who spoke raised concerns that wind turbine construction would lead to a marred viewscape and a series of nuisances, such as noise and light pollution.
A few people advocated for the proposed bylaw, including the man who submitted it, Harold “Butch” Malloy.
Some residents said Malloy had been persuaded to write the proposal by Minuteman Wind LLC representatives, who have said they are interested in building a five-turbine, 12.5 megawatt wind farm on Malloy’s 290-acre West Hill property. Malloy said that was not true.
“I called them up a year ago begging them to get this through,” Malloy said, adding that he is a proponent of wind power and believed the wind farm would benefit the townspeople.
Three Minutemen representatives opened the meeting with a PowerPoint presentation, which explained Malloy’s proposal and compared it with the state’s official guidelines for building similar bylaws. The men showed that Malloy’s suggested bylaw met and, in some cases, surpassed the state’s guidelines.
Selectman Bettis said his board had already come up with ways to make the bylaw’s restrictions tighter, however, and will make the changes before it is put to a vote at an as-yet unscheduled special town meeting.
During the meeting, two Planning Board members repeatedly reminded residents that the Planning Board would soon be submitting another bylaw proposal for the town’s consideration – one with many more restrictions.
Residents will theoretically vote first on Malloy’s proposal, which needs 2/3 majority approval to pass. Then, if that one is voted down and the Planning Board has submitted its proposal, residents will vote on the board’s bylaw. If that bylaw is voted down too, no turbine construction will be allowed, mainly because of an old law that states no structure taller than 35 feet can be built in Savoy. The law was put into place because the Fire Department’s ladder only reaches that high.
According to Malloy, the Planning Board’s bylaw is likely to squelch turbine development through a dense list of restrictions, if it passes.
Most residents, no matter their opinion, wanted to know why the Planning Board’s proposal still was not ready for a vote. Jamie Reinhardt, Planning Board chairman, said the board has been fine-tuning the legal language of the bylaw for more than three years. He and Karen Dobe-Costa, another Planning Board member, said slow responses from the town’s lawyer and the attorney general’s office have been partly to blame, but that the resulting law is sure to protect the town’s interests.
“We just have to change a few words and it’ll be done,” Dobe-Costa said.
Steven Weisman, vice president of Minuteman Wind, questioned Dobe-Costa’s promise.
“We’ve been coming to meetings since 2004, and you told us the bylaw was just around the corner then,” Weisman said. “Well I guess it’s just around the corner again. All we want is a bylaw that allows us to apply for a special permit.”
Residents questioned what his hurry was and Don McCauley, the company’s president, replied that engineers have collected a significant amount of data about the potential building site and that information needs to be current when construction begins.
Minuteman representatives responded to questions about the mechanical features of the turbines they planned to build, but could not answer questions about how much money the town would eventually gain from the wind farm in the form of taxes or a payment in lieu of taxes.
One man seemed certain that there would be at least some extra money in the budget as a result of the project, however, and that would not be a bad thing.
“We have a $140,000 shortfall in our budget this year,” he said. “How are we going to pay that?”
By Bonnie Obremski
26 October 2007
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