From now until at least next spring, anyone who wants to put up a wind turbine – on land, except in Edgartown and at sea anywhere within three miles of the Island – must go before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for review.
With a yearlong moratorium on large wind turbines set to expire, the commission voted last Thursday to extend the period that towns have to develop final wind regulations until at least the next spring town meeting cycle.
Until then all wind turbines over 150 feet high will automatically be referred to the commission for review as developments of regional impact (DRI).
And the regulation of wind turbines on the Island remains a largely unsettled issue.
A little over a year ago the commission voted to designate the waters around the Island as a district of critical planning concern (DCPC), triggering a yearlong moratorium on the construction of any structures more than 150 feet tall within three miles of the Vineyard shoreline.
Then in December 2009 the commission voted to designate a wind turbine DCPC across the entire land part of the Island as well, excepting Edgartown which declined to participate. At the time Edgartown had planned to build a 363-foot wind turbine at the town wastewater treatment plant, although Kitt Johnson of the Edgartown energy advisory committee said this week that the project has since stalled.
But the purpose of the two DCPCs and their mandatory accompanying moratoriums was a time-out to develop comprehensive regulations for wind turbines.
“When the towns asked the commission for the DCPC the focus first was to put the moratorium in place,” commission executive director Mark London said this week. “We didn’t have a discussion about how that would fit into the spring town meeting schedule.”
Mr. London said when the commission approached town planners about possibly hurrying their work to have final regulations formulated for fall special town meetings, they were told that towns generally prefer to consider major zoning changes at annual town meetings, not specials. With the yearlong moratorium set to expire and no new regulations in place, the commission was advised by its attorney Eric Wodlinger that it could adopt interim regulations that would act as a placeholder until annual town meetings. As a result the interim regulations were approved last week.
In short, the regulations call for all wind turbines to be referred to the commission for review as DRIs.
Meanwhile, Mr. London said the commission is working with representatives from each town as part of a wind planning study group that meets monthly to develop more comprehensive regulations. He said he hopes the regulations will be ready by the end of the year.
Before the vote, one Islander in attendance expressed impatience with the commission’s lack of progress.
“It’s a year on [from the moratorium],” said Chilmark resident Eric Glasgow. “I can’t speak for what’s gone on in the other towns but we’re no closer to a bylaw it seems than we were a year ago. I just feel like what’s the end game? The commission gave the towns a year to get their act together and they haven’t done anything. It just seems to me like this has the chance to go on in perpetuity.”
Doug Sederholm, a commission member and chairman of the wind planning study group, defended the pace of his group’s work.
“This is probably the most complicated regulatory issue that we’ve undertaken,” he said. “It ain’t easy . . . we couldn’t get it together for last April, that would have been impossible.”
And some members of the commission were more sanguine about the temporary process.
“All you would have to do is come before the commission, present the proposal and pass muster that the benefits outweigh the detriments,” said commissioner Linda Sibley of West Tisbury.
Commissioner Chris Murphy of Chilmark agreed.
“The good thing is that if you want to come in the day after this vote and apply to put up a windmill, there’s now a process that you can go through to do that,” he said. “And hopefully it will work.”
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