BREWSTER – In the wake of Wednesday night’s non-decision by the planning board on proposed municipal wind turbines, town officials began preparing an appeal that is likely to end up in Barnstable Superior Court.
“I am evaluating the process for appeal and will be presenting something to selectmen in the future,” Town Administrator Charles Sumner said Thursday.
Speaking only for himself and not the board, board of selectmen Chairman Edward Lewis said he welcomed the idea of an appeal.
“Personally, I think we have to appeal,” Lewis said. “Too much money has been expended, and too much effort. Every board in town voted for this.”
Until Wednesday night’s planning board meeting, that is.
Planning board members Scott Collum, John McMullen, and Vice Chairman Richard Kuzman voted to deny a permit to the Cape and Vineyard Electric Co-operative to build two 410-foot-high wind turbines on town-owned land off Freemans Way. Three others planning board members, John Leaning, Chairman Elizabeth Taylor, and Robert Barnard, voted against the motion to deny.
Robert Bugle abstained.
Because approval or disapproval of the special permit to build large wind turbines requires a super majority of five of the possible seven planning board votes, the project faced a hung jury. Although no one knew for sure Thursday, several officials thought the only appeal would be through the courts because the state Energy Facilities Siting Board only handles projects of 100 megawatts or greater, such as Cape Wind.
Unlike many other Cape municipal wind projects, the proposed Brewster wind farm site is relatively remote. The closest neighboring property owner is 1,800 feet from a proposed turbine and most are more than 3,000 feet away.
“It’s a good site. You won’t get too many that are better than that,” Dennis Water District Superintendent David Larkowski said. He was measuring the response to the Brewster project as his agency works on its own wind turbine proposal. “If it doesn’t go through, I doubt you’ll see any anywhere,” he added.
Selectmen and the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative – the developer – have to approve any appeal, Sumner believes. Although the town has spent some money on the project, the primary financial burden of the permitting process has been borne by the cooperative, which has 18 Cape and Vineyard towns and county organizations as members. Sumner estimates the agency has spent more than $400,000 on the Brewster project so far.
The electric cooperative has proposed spending $10 million to purchase, install and maintain the two turbines. Co-op officials have also promised to pay the town $100,000 annually to lease the town’s land and supply relatively low-cost electricity to municipal departments over a 20-year lease period.
Although some planning board members professed surprise Wednesday night that large turbines were ever intended to go on the town property, town records show voters consistently have backed the project.
In 2007, the planning board established itself as the special permit granting authority when it wrote the bylaws governing both smaller residential wind turbines and “large-scale wind energy turbines,” and created an overlay district for the big turbines.
The Nov. 5, 2007, town meeting vote establishing the bylaw was unanimous, with 403 residents voting, according to town records. Both the boards of selectmen and finance committee voted unanimously to recommend the bylaw at the time.
In 2008, town meeting passed three other articles related to large wind turbines. In 2009, 650 voters unanimously approved leasing the Freemans Way property to the cooperative to build the turbines. In May 2010, town meeting unanimously approved changes to the special permit extending the lease period.
According to town records, article summaries from the October 2009 town meeting described the turbines as 1.65 megawatts each.
The 2007 bylaw described them as turbines with heights of more than 130 feet.
Wednesday night, Kuzman said town meeting voters must not have known what they were voting on. McMullen, who was on the planning board along with Bugle in 2007 when the turbine bylaws were written, said Wednesday night that most people didn’t think the town was talking about big turbines when those rules were crafted.
But none of the planning board members except Taylor attended the 2007 town meeting, according to town records. Leaning, Barnard and Kuzman were not on the board at the time, and Collum was not registered to vote in town. But Bugle and McMullen were longtime planning board members who helped write the 2007 bylaw. McMullen didn’t attend a town meeting between 1999 and 2009.
Wednesday’s decision would have been the culminating vote in a seven-year process to install turbines on the town property.
Although the planning board was nearly finished with a checklist of findings on the project, it had not yet worked on establishing ways to alter the project to deal with objections raised by some of the board members when Collum abruptly made a motion to deny the permit.
Selectman Gregory Levasseur, who served for years as the liaison to the planning board, was sympathetic toward the board.
He said the amount of written material, comments, and the long public hearing took a toll on board members. “The group has had to deal with a lot. It’s a lot for volunteers. I’m sure it was intimidating,” he said. “The board gave it their best shot.”
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