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Selectmen may not seek funds for Monomoy sewers, Madaket wind turbines

The selectmen appeared to back away Wednesday night from asking voters to appropriate money for the construction of two major capital projects at next month’s Town Meeting: the proposed expansion of sewer lines into Monomoy and the wind energy project at the Madaket landfill.

The two projects, which combined would total more than $20 million in capital spending, have both been in the works for years, and appeared headed toward up or down votes during the April Town Meeting.

But the town’s consultant on the Madaket wind energy project advised the board Wednesday night to postpone seeking voter approval for the construction of two 900-kikowatt wind turbines.

“There are aspects that are critical and are in flux, and some of them will settle down within the next month or two,” said George Aronson, of Commonwealth Resource Management. “We were a bit nervous about the timing of Town Meeting in this process and it’s our judgment that more time for public input and completion of the analysis would be prudent.”

Planning for the $7.2 million wind energy project will remain on track, he said, and two other warrant articles related to the project that would allow turbines to be sited at the landfill and designate the area as a “Wind Energy Overlay District” will still go before voters.

Citing the experience of Falmouth, Mass., which is dealing with a public outcry over its 1.65-megawatt wind turbine, several selectmen seemed pleased to step back and slow Nantucket’s review process.

“I’m very relieved to hear you say that,” selectman Michael Kopko said to Aronson. “There are issues going on in Falmouth that I’d love to see shake out there, so we can learn from their experience before we make the big leap.”

The $15 million expansion of the municipal sewer system into Monomoy, a project intended to reduce nitrogen loading in Nantucket harbor and bring much-needed new connections to the Surfside sewer plant, had seemed to be a project with broad consensus among the selectmen as recently as last week.

But selectmen Rick Atherton and Patty Roggeveen indicated their desire to obtain more public input on a funding formula for the project before moving forward. The board had seemed to reach an agreement last week on a plan that would impose betterment fees on Monomoy residents to recover two-thirds of the cost of the project, with the remaining funding coming from the tax base. That formula would mean betterment fees as high as $90,000 for Monomoy homeowners, and tax increases of roughly $40 per year for the average island taxpayer. But after hearing from island residents over the past week, Atherton said it may be better to seek more community input before asking voters for an appropriation.

“We’re better as a community to find out how the public wants to deal with the funding issue,” said Atherton, stressing that the town still had the authority to move ahead with the design work for the project, and should do so.

“I don’t think we’ve done enough homework to get the right number,” Roggeveen said. “I feel like we’re throwing darts at the board.”

While he was willing to delay action on the Madaket wind energy project, Kopko insisted that the board should continue to pursue funding for the Monomoy sewer expansion next month at Town Meeting.

“This is going to be a decision that’s going to, at some point, cheese some number of people off significantly, that’s just the way it is,” Kopko said. “This is going to be an expensive proposition, whoever pays for it, but these thing have to get done and we have to make a decision.”

Funding articles for both projects will still appear on the Town Meeting warrant next month, as the selectmen chose to include them when the warrant was approved. The board will offer their final comments on the Town Meeting articles next week.