Citing neighborhood concerns, city officials have shelved a request to the City Council for authorization to accept an $85,000 grant for a feasibility study toward putting a wind turbine project at Magnolia Woods.
In a letter to City Councilor Greg Verga. Mayor Carolyn Kirk wrote this week there were a number of reasons to withdraw the request, “most important of which is the fact that we listened carefully to the feedback from the neighborhood.”
“While there are some people in favor of moving forward,” Kirk’s letter continued, “enough concerns were raised as to the unique location under consideration – the closed landfill.
“While the proposal is for a study only, there are legitimate questions and concerns,” Kirk wrote, “and clearly there has not been enough dialogue within the community in order to proceed even with a study under the time frame of the grant.”
Responding to the mayor, Verga wrote back that he agreed with not going ahead on the grant.
“I believe this is a wise decision,” Verga wrote. “The history – that predates most of us – at the ‘dump’ is one filled with many twists and turns, questionable practices and ultimately a promise made to a community.”
Notice of the grant offer from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center had come as a surprise to some neighbors of the proposed project area, according to members of the City Council and city Community Development Department, and immediate council action had been put off.
In a letter to the granting agency in September, Kirk wrote that “the development of renewable energy to both reduce the city’s energy costs and to promote clean and renewable energy sources is one of the major goals of my administration.”
Kirk noted that officials were also involved in the preparation of a similar feasibility study for a city-owned site at Blackburn Industrial Park.
Additionally, the Bond Hill Reservoir site is being evaluated for one or more smaller turbines.
In this week’s letter to Verga, Kirk expressed thanks for the volunteer efforts of the city’s Clean Energy Commission, “who’ve worked diligently to move forward with the administration’s policies for clean energy alternatives in the City of Gloucester, and who worked to secure the grant funding.”
“As I informed the members, however, we cannot let grant funding drive the pace of change,” Kirk said. “We need to work with the impacted neighborhoods with sensitivity and due diligence, and in this case, my belief is we short-changed the dialogue – especially given the unique history and circumstances surrounding the closed landfill.”
The mayor said there are other clean energy alternatives the commission is pursuing, “and I know that Gloucester is a leader among municipalities in this regard.”
The grant offer would have gone toward a feasibility study for the installation of a wind turbine project capable of generating up to 2 megawatts of power from city-owned land in the vicinity of the Magnolia Woods Recreational Area.
As originally envisioned, the city’s community development staff would work with Meridian Associates of Beverly on the study, which requires a $4,750 local match and would focus on the former landfill off Western Avenue.
Magnolia Woods, a 277-acre parcel owned by the city, primarily features forested land surrounding a cleared area of about 40 acres that includes defunct city dump which was capped more than a decade ago. More than half of the open land has been redeveloped as athletic playing fields.
At the Jan. 20 City Council committee meeting, Jane Porter of Ryan Road recalled longtime efforts to clean up and close the regional landfill and suggested there should be more residential involvement in considering the grant application.
Verga, who hosted a Ward 5 meeting on March 7 at Magnolia Library to discuss the city’s goals concerning wind energy, said Friday it’s important to involve residents from the start.
Opposition to moving forward at Magnolia Woods, amid concern that a wind turbine project could compromise the cap on the closed landfill, appeared “too much to overcome,” he said.
Verga, in his letter back to the mayor, reiterated his belief that wind power is something the city should continue to pursue and said “we elected and appointed officials need to be sure that the public is in the loop from this re-start point.”
At the ward meeting, he said, a show of hands clearly indicated about 95 percent support for wind power. But, he added, the comments, as well as e-mails, “ran the full range: all for a turbine at Magnolia Woods, anywhere but Magnolia Woods, anywhere but Magnolia, anywhere but Ward 5, nowhere in Gloucester.”
Reconciling varying points of view will be challenging, he said.
“As we have seen, it is much better to build a coalition of support (and compromise) than to appear to be forcing something on to people,” Verga wrote.
“I look forward to working with your administration as well as the CEC as we look for next steps,” he told the mayor.
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