CHARLESTOWN – The next five members of the Town Council will decide the fate of two proposed wind turbines opposed by their prospective neighbors.
Town councilors voted 5-0 Monday night to postpone hearings on Whalerock Renewable Energy LLC’s plan indefinitely, after learning that an independent noise consultant would not be available to offer a review of the Ninigret Hamlet wind project until after the Nov. 2 election.
Hired by the town at the developer’s expense, the review is expected to cost between $4,000 and $10,000, according to Town Administrator William DiLibero – who is coordinating efforts with a company out of Billerica, Mass.
“The Town Council is not willing to proceed without this information in all fairness to everyone,” Councilor Gregory Avedisian said before a crowd of about 200 at the Charlestown Elementary School.
The project, proposed by Michael Carlino and his father-in-law Larry LeBlanc, calls for two, 262-foot wind turbines on 81 acres north of Route 1, between Kings Factory Road and East Quail Run. Blades on the towers could be as high as 410 feet at their highest point.
A portion of revenues from the 1.8-megawatt turbines would be given to the town in the form of a 2-percent royalty – or between $24,000 and $33,000 annually. Carlino had hoped to have the project up and running by next summer.
But with the town election just seven days away, its review has turned into a political liability for incumbents seeking re-election, and an opportunity for their opponents. In recent weeks, the Charlestown Citizens Alliance – an advocacy group with ties to the town’s elected Planning Commission – has issued numerous e-mails drumming up opposition to Whalerock’s proposal.
“I really take offense to the fact that there have been parties that have tried to make this a political issue, for the benefit of the election, as opposed to allowing everybody concerned to evaluate for themselves and decide what is best for themselves as citizens of the town,” Avedisian said.
On Friday, a group of 33 residents filed a request for a temporary restraining order to stop Monday’s hearing, and Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Lanphear blocked the town from issuing a building permit for the project – but allowed the hearings to continue.
Kristan O’Connor, a Partridge Run resident and financial consultant who is leading efforts to repeal Charlestown’s wind ordinance, said residents will continue to move forward with their request for a preliminary injunction against the town. Lanphear is scheduled to hear arguments on Nov. 8.
Adopted by the council in January, the town’s wind ordinance gives the council sole authority over permitting for wind projects, and allows – but does not require – the council to seek advisory opinions from the Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Review. (The Zoning Board’s input on the Whalerock plan was never sought.)
“There is no state law that regulates wind,” Avedisian said. “There is no statewide wind ordinance, and there’s no requirements to have a wind ordinance … This council took the initiative to see that we would not get caught with our pants down, so to speak, so that when an application was presented to us we would have an ordinance in place we could use as guidelines and regulations to either approve or deny.
“It was never my intent to push anything through,” he added later. “There’s no inside deal. This is a project that is being presented by a property owner within the town that could potentially provide a benefit to the town. It would be irresponsible on any council’s part to not consider it. And that doesn’t mean that they automatically rubberstamp it. Consider what it means, consider the merits and consider the negatives. And that’s all that we have tried to do.”
Councilor Charlene Dunn agreed.
“This council listened to your concerns,” she said. “I know what it is to worry about development that’s planned contiguous to your neighborhood … We don’t want to make this a political football. This is a business decision, this is a clean energy decision.”
The council’s vote, however, was met by jeers from several residents involved in the lawsuit. “Throw them out, throw them out,” they chanted.
A flier distributed by residents at Monday’s meeting accused councilors and Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero of attempting to “fast track the Whalerock wind project despite warnings that their actions violated state law” – though it doesn’t say by whom.
“With the upcoming election on Nov. 2nd, town residents will have an opportunity to elect individuals who possess the integrity and moral leadership to make decisions that are above legal reproach, who represent residents’ best interests and who will restore confidence in our town government,” the flier reads, echoing the campaign platform of three, CCA-endorsed council candidates.
Carlino, who has so far committed more than $100,000 on the project, said he’ll continue to seek council approval for the turbines. “I understand it became a political football and an instrument of politics, from their perspective,” he said. “I understand their reasoning.”
But Carlino said the 81- acre tract was purchased by LeBlanc as an investment property, and some form of development – turbines or otherwise – is planned.
“If this doesn’t go, it reverts back to Larry and whatever economically benefits him,” he said. “It’s most likely not going to stay in its present form.”
Councilors have contended that using the property for alternative energy is a better use than others – including its potential sale to the Narragansett Indian tribe. LeBlanc previously offered plans for a 125-unit age-restricted condo development at the site.
“I can think of a lot of things that a private property owner can do on this piece of land that in my mind would be far worse,” Avedisian said.
Also Monday, three of the plaintiffs in the residents’ lawsuit – Joseph and Susan Behl, and Natalie Hill – asked to be removed from it. They claimed they wrote their names on a sign-up sheet at a neighborhood meeting on Oct. 17, but never intended to take part in the lawsuit.
“It was done without our permission,” said Susan Behl. “I realize we put our name on a document, but it was done without our permission. I’m really upset about that.”
O’Connor said residents who attended the Sunday meeting were asked to make a financial commitment to the appeal, and appeared to support it.
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