The Federal Aviation Administration has denied Jamestown’s bid for clearance to build a wind turbine at Taylor Point. The FAA ruled that the turbine would interfere with navigational instruments used by aircraft approaching the National Guard airfield at Quonset Point.
The unexpected ruling, which cannot be appealed, was announced by Town Administrator Bruce Keiser at an unscheduled Town Council meeting on Sept. 14. The councilors had set aside the evening for a Ft. Getty workshop, which was delayed until they finished their discussions on a response to the FAA ruling.
The immediate response will include hiring a consultancy to evaluate the electromagnetic threat to avionics from a turbine at three alternative locations: Beavertail State Park, the North Main Road landfill and a pair of sites at Ft. Getty. The consultancy, which was established by former FAA employees, will charge $800 to evaluate all four of the sites, Keiser said.
Council member Bob Bowen, who served on the former Wind Energy Committee, said that a consulting firm previously hired to evaluate the feasibility of a Jamestown turbine had assured the committee that “Taylor Point didn’t have any fatal flaws.”
Bowen also said that the consulting firm relied on a publicly available FAA model to assess the conformity of a Taylor Point turbine with FAA guidelines.
However, as Town Administrator Bruce Keiser observed, “The planning tool on the FAA website [does not provide] a letter of determination. And, because of its potential interference with navigational electronics, a 400-foot-high turbine cannot be located at or near Taylor Point. It is off the table.”
If the experts on FAA guidelines determine that one of the alternative sites is suitable, the next step for the council will be asking the R.I. Secretary of State for permission to change the wording of the ballot question proposing a wind turbine bond.
No one at the council meeting knew whether the state has a mechanism to address such requests, but permission would be necessary because Taylor Point is specifically referenced in the enabling legislation for the ballot question.
If all four of the alternative sites receive a “green light” from the consultancy, the council would have to select one of the four and request a letter of determination from the FAA. The frontrunners for selection would be – for various reasons – the Ft. Getty sites.
In the meantime, the town would resume the process of selecting a fi- nancial analyst to predict the profits from a turbine at the selected site – along with the benefits – if any – of leasing the turbine to, or entering into a partnership with, an energy developer.
Because the analysis is intended to educate residents before a vote on the referendum, it would have to be finished within two or three weeks of Election Day, which is Nov. 2.
Although the time available for site selection, FAA approval and financial analysis is extremely tight, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that a wind turbine referendum will still appear on the Nov. 2 ballot. However, it is more likely that the ballot question will be rescinded and put before the voters at a special town meeting, or in a special election, further down the road – assuming that the FAA signs off on an alternative site.
The $750,000 federal grant awarded to Jamestown for its turbine expires in January 2012. However, if the ballot question is not put to a vote on Nov. 2, the council will not want to schedule an alternative voting date too far into the future because the outcome of the vote will have a direct bearing on longdelayed decisions on the future of Ft. Getty.
That’s because the “shadow flicker” from spinning turbine blades would fall across some of the 105 recreational vehicle sites, and there is a standing proposal to relocate some of those sites to create open parkland. But that’s just one of many recommendations issued by the Ft. Getty Re-Use Committee in 2004, and several councils have failed to implement any of them in the ensuing years.
“We need to get off the dime,” said council member Mike White, who also said that the Re-Use Committee “decided against a recommendation to close the campground.”
Keiser said that the annual fees for all Ft. Getty uses total approximately $420,000, with RV fees accounting for $365,000 of the total. After subtracting expenses to maintain the park, the net income for the town is $250,000; and, after subtracting the annual $150,000 appropriation for the Ft. Getty Capital Improvement Fund, the net benefit to the general fund is about $100,000.
The key question that Jamestown councils have failed to answer is: How much of that revenue, if any, is the town willing to sacrifi ce to accommodate other uses?
“The real estate at the park is limited,” Keiser said, “and there is excessive demand for all existing and potential uses. So, we have to address three questions. What are our priorities for the park? What is the price tag for those priorities? And how do we allocate space for the existing and potential uses?”
Town Planner Lisa Bryer said that a consultant hired to advise the Re-Use Committee was told that, based upon town survey responses, “we need to maintain revenue, but also increase resident use of the park.”
Some of the updated Ft. Getty Master Plan proposals that emerged after a review of the consultant’s recommendations were increasing open space on the northern and western side of the park; repairing and upgrading the pavilion and roads; building a visitors center; building a wood-pile pier (likely impossible because of environmental issues); building a sailing school and boating center; and improving the boat ramp (currently in the planning stage).
Keiser said that despite a potential loss of revenue from shifting a percentage of park uses away from seasonal and transient campers, some of the recommendations – such as the sailing school and expanded marine opportunities – “offer the potential to offer a lot of new value to the town.”
Bryer said that it would be worthwhile to reconstitute the Ft. Getty panel for the purpose of laying out an implementation plan, but Bowen opposed the idea, arguing that it’s up to the council to set the priorities. He also said that town staff will be available to implement the priorities.
The issue of Ft. Getty priorities will be addressed formally at the Sept. 20 meeting of the Town Council.
“The RV trailers require signifi- cant capital support, and the council must decide what the layout of the park will be,” Keiser said.
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