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Wind turbines don’t spin in Scituate in 2010

SCITUATE – Windmills will remain only in the mind in Scituate, at least if they are the kind that generate energy, because the Town Council and a group of opponents to the green electricity alternative in 2010 pretty much squashed future prospects.

Controversy swirled like a windmill in a hurricane when Gloria McConville asked the Zoning Board in April for a variance to erect a wind turbine as tall as a downtown Providence skyscraper in her Sunset Orchard on Gleaner Chapel Road.

What ensued was one of the biggest stories of the year, right up there with:

* An election that maintained the Republican hold on the Town Council in a seven seat sweep.

* The Department of Homeland Security awarding the town’s fire departments a $1.56 million grant to pay stipends to volunteers, recruit and retain volunteers, create a new website for the fire service.

* A sparse crowd of 110 voters approving a $31.8 million municipal government and schools budget at the annual Financial Town Meeting with little objection or question. The budget revenues include raising $24.7 million in local taxes and receiving $7 million from other sources.

* The North Scituate Baptist Church celebrating its 175th birthday.

* The displaced members of the Chopmist Hill Fire Department suing the Town Council in U.S. District Court alleging the council was planning to shut down the department at an executive session meeting on Aug. 26, 2009, in response to union organizing.

But, it was the wind turbine proposal that really stirred up the town, similar to the controversy that arose last year in other Rhode Island towns when the green energy alternative was introduced.

It seems a lot of people like the idea of green energy, but just not next door.

Neighbors complained that McConville’s request for a special use permit and a dimensional variance would negatively impact their enjoyment of their own property and create a hazard if granted.

The town limits a structure in the rural residential zone where the McConville farm is located to 36 feet in height. The wind turbine would stand 492 feet, about as tall as the Bank of America Building in downtown Providence (also known as the Superman Building).

In quick order, the council imposed a moratorium on wind turbines – McConville’s, however was grandfathered as it preceded the moratorium – and appointed a special committee to draft a zoning ordinance.

Soon, the controversy took on a different cast when Town Council member John F. Winfield Jr., a neighbor, participated in deliberations on the issue, leading McConville to file a complaint against him with the Rhode Island Ethics Commission. The complaint is pending.

After a series of public meetings by the council’s study group and some anonymous leafletting in opposition, the proposed zoning ordinance was aired Nov. 16 and the council rejected it, leaving in place the 36-foot height limit.

In its first meeting in December the council lifted the moratorium. The future is uncertain not only for the McConville wind turbine but for any construction of wind turbines in Scituate in the future.