DENNIS – Dennis selectmen are poised to challenge the Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District Commission’s rejection of Acquacultural Research Corporation’s wind turbine proposal.
On Sept. 29, the commission overturned the Dennis OKH committee’s approval of the project on the grounds that poor judgment was used in the approval process.
ARC vice president Gail Hart said she and her business partners don’t know if they can afford to appeal the denial. “This has been a big setback, time-wise and financially,” Hart said Monday. “I’m looking around for grants and other funding sources.”
ARC President Dick Kraus told Dennis selectmen Oct. 5 that the state has promised to hold their $400,000 Massachusetts Technology Collaborative grant until 2012, providing sufficient time for a court hearing on the decision and for ARC to acquire the necessary permits should a judge overturn the commission’s decision.
During that meeting, Selectman Wayne Bergeron spoke passionately against the commission’s decision. “This has significant economic implications that could have a dramatic ripple affect, impacting 20 jobs at ARC as well as our local shellfishermen and the shellfish industry across Cape Cod.”
Bergeron questioned the ability of “an outside group with no accountability” to overturn a local, elected committee’s decision. “I do not get to vote for people in Barnstable, Sandwich and the others on this commission,” he said. “I have difficulties with how the hearing was conducted. Does the town have an interest? Do we want to intervene on behalf of the people affected in our community?”
Dennis Town Administrator Rick White said the town has the legal right to appeal on behalf of its residents. “It’s clear under the law that the board of selectmen, on behalf of the community, can appeal in court the decision of an outside group that impacts the town,” he said. Selectmen accepted White’s offer to set up an executive session meeting with town counsel on Oct. 19 “to hear what the ramifications of an appeal would be.”
Selectwoman Sheryl McMahon, who also serves as clerk for the Dennis Water District, recused herself from these discussions because of a possible conflict of interest. The water district is considering a similar project on its land.
Selectwoman Heidi Schadt, who attended the commission hearing, said she was “shocked” by the way it was conducted. “They didn’t address the process,” she said. “This decision is affecting our entire shellfish industry.”
Bergeron added, “The viability of ARC is in question without the turbine to ease their energy costs.”
Stressing his support for ARC, Selectman Alan Tuttle said, “It’s their battle, not ours. I don’t think we should spend taxpayer dollars on private industry.”
Bergeron disagreed. “I say we do this to protect the people in our community who are economically impacted by this decision. It is worth doing to protect our interests.”
The community speaks
John Lowell of South Dennis, owner of the East Dennis Oyster Farm, stressed the economic impact should rising energy costs force ARC out of business. “We buy clean, healthy seed from ARC, plant it and grow animals, each of which filters 50 gallons of water a day.” On Lowell’s Crowes Pasture grant alone, a million young oysters filter 50 million gallons of Cape Cod Bay water daily.
“We sell to local restaurants, they sell the shellfish, the waitresses get tips—we’re talking about millions of animals and millions of dollars,” Lowell said.
Andy Baylor, owner of Nantucket Fish Company in South Dennis, said the commission’s decision threatens the grassroots seafood industry on Cape Cod. “Wind energy is necessary for seafood and aquaculture companies to survive these high energy costs,” Baylor said. “I dread the $10,000 electric bill that comes each month. My business can’t afford to lose this historical, back to nature, hard-work- on-the-water business called ARC.”
Henry Kelley of East Dennis said the local committee exercised their judgment and the majority agree with selectmen and much of the Dennis community on wind energy. “The best, most effective way to get that commission off this [anti-wind turbine] mindset is to follow procedure and take this matter to court.”
Kelley said he and Peter McDowell of Dennis were principal players on a past committee that added renewable energy considerations to the Old King’s Highway Act. “You could summon to testify in court two people who know more than anyone in the world the intent of that addition to the Act,” he said. “I urge you all to do what you need to do to protect the interests of the people of this town.”