The Town Council on Monday night imposed a nine-month moratorium on new wind turbine applications, making Middletown the fifth community in Rhode Island to institute such a temporary ban.
Tiverton, Exeter, Charlestown and North Kingstown have similar moratoriums in effect on wind turbines.
Middletown Councilor Bruce Long proposed the measure as a way to give the town some cover while planners look to strengthen the town’s existing wind turbine ordinance, now more than a year old, to address such issues as identifying sites for industrial grade turbines outside residential areas, safe setback distances and other design considerations.
The unanimous vote drew applause from the roughly dozen familiar faces who gathered Monday night for the discussion. Many of them had turned out several months ago at various town hearings to oppose a nearly 300-foot wind turbine that had been proposed for a sheep farm overlooking Sachuest Point. That application was withdrawn in November after opponents raised concerns about its industrial size and visibility near Second Beach, as well as for shadow flicker, noise and potential property value losses in the area.
“The current ordinance, as it is, doesn’t stop that type of development from being filed with the town right now,” Long said Monday night, referring to the former application.
The former proposal had also brought the town’s wind turbine ordinance under scrutiny, for leaving such determinations as “dominant views” as being subjective and potentially leaving the town vulnerable to decision reversals in a court of law.
At Monday night’s meeting, Town Council member Christopher Semonelli echoed those earlier arguments from several months ago.
“My concern is that some of these vagaries are going to set up the town for more legal implications down the road,” he said.
“This was a first generation wind ordinance and all of us know it needs to be improved and tweaked,” agreed Town Council President Art Weber, who had previously served on the Planning Commission when the previous wind turbine application at the sheep farm had come up for review and when the new wind turbine ordinance took effect.
“Out of an abundance of caution for our people, we do need this moratorium,” Councilor Richard Cambra said in support of the moratorium.
Resident Tom Cook spoke before the council in support of the moratorium and urged the town to look at additional issues as it reexamines the town’s wind turbine ordinance, related to rate structures, utility grid impact and size specifications.
Portsmouth resident Donna Olszewski, who grew up in Middletown and now lives 750 feet away from the wind turbine near Portsmouth High School, urged the council to carefully regulate the construction of future wind turbines. She described her regrets for not having enough information to fight the wind turbine construction in her neighborhood. Light “flicker,” noise, low frequency generator hum, and fear of loss in property values remain her chief complaints.
“I encourage you to institute a moratorium so that you don’t make the mistakes that Portsmouth made,” she said.
Long said he proposed the moratorium for a nine-month period as a goal for the town to set a timeline to review and amend the town’s wind turbine ordinance by the end of the year. If needed, the Town Council can later vote to extend it, he noted.
Long also withdrew an original motion from his submitted memorandum that called for a comprehensive study on real estate impacts, setback recommendations and the impacts of various heights and blade widths for wind turbines in Middletown. Long noted that the state is currently conducting a similar study of wind turbines and suggested that the council wait until those findings are revealed before deciding if further study was needed for Middletown.
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