DENNIS – Dennis selectmen want the town to have a voice in the court case involving the Aquacultural Research Corporation and the Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District Commission. But they stop short of having the town join the lawsuit on the side of ARC.
ARC wants to build a 243-foot, 600-kilowatt wind turbine on its property off Chapin Beach in Dennis, a decision that was at first approved by the Dennis Old King’s Highway Historic District Committee, but later overturned by the regional OKH commission.
Dennis selectmen have filed a motion to intervene in the case. Selectman Wayne Bergeron said that, should an Orleans District Court judge grant the motion, it would allow the town to question the basis of facts the Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District Commission used to overturn the local committee’s decision.
The case went to the regional commission when Dennis resident Rosemarie Austin filed an appeal of the local committee’s decision, calling it a “misinterpretation” of the Old King’s Highway Act regarding the turbine’s size “in relation to the surrounding pristine historic area.”
Bergeron responded to those in Dennis who question the selectmen’s move to intervene.
“This is not a co-appeal in which the town is mingling our funds with ARC’s,” Bergeron said. “We want to have our concerns heard in court,” he said. “The decision of the regional historic district commission may have a significant affect on what the town and the Dennis Water District will be able to do [in terms of wind energy] from here. We see the regional commission’s decision as arbitrary and capricious.”
The motion to intervene drew outrage from Austin and her supporters during the public information period of the Feb. 8 selectmen’s meeting.
With many questions asked that would have been answered had this topic been requested as an agenda item, Town Administrator Rick White said he would answer all questions if they were submitted to him in writing.
Richard Watts of Whig Street on Feb. 8 submitted questions and Whiteresponded Feb. 10
Watts asked when the vote was taken to enter executive session to discuss this matter and how it was justified under the Open Meeting Law.
White said on Oct. 19 and Nov. 2, on motions by Chairman Paul McCormick, selectmen entered executive session “for the purposes of discussing litigation strategy, as an open meeting will have a detrimental effect on [selectmen’s] litigating position.” This is stipulated under Chapter 30 of Mass General Law.
Watts asked how much taxpayer money has been spent and how much more has been budgeted “in this legal partnership with a private corporation?”
White noted that the town and ARC do not share the same interests and that the town has not engaged in a legal partnership with a private corporation. “Any representation that such a partnership exists is untrue,” White said. In terms of legal fees, “the town appropriates a lump sum of money for legal services and does not budget by case … [which] would be impossible as many of the current cases were unknown when the budget was developed and approved by Town Meeting.” White said thus far the town has spent about $1,000 to protect its interest.
Watts asked which selectmen voted in favor of the town becoming “a co-plaintiff.”
Again White noted that the town does not share ARC’s interests and has not entered into a legal partnership with the private corporation. He said state law requires that materials from executive session may be withheld from public disclosure until a litigating, negotiating or bargaining position is no longer jeopardized by such disclosure. “At this point in time, with the litigation ongoing, the purpose of the executive sessions has not been satisfied, and it would not be appropriate to disclose the records of these meetings,” White said.
White also said in response to a question that the minutes of the executive session will be made public “when the Board of Selectmen determines it is appropriate to release [them] and declares that they are available.” That is usually when the legal process is completed.
In the meantime, Austin has filed a petition article for the May 3 annual Town Meeting warrant asking the town to “limit placement of land-based wind turbines 45 feet or higher to no less than 4,752 feet by line of sight from the nearest residence” and that “no exemptions from this directive be allowed for anyone wishing to erect a land-based wind turbine.”