BREWSTER – The town’s stalled twin turbine project is spinning again, on twin fronts.
While the plan’s foes aren’t pleased, the board of selectmen hopes the May 2 town meeting will give a thumbs-up to a zoning bylaw amendment that would let municipal turbines bypass the special permit process. The town planning board deadlocked (3-3-1) on a motion to deny the permit to the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative on Feb. 16, which effectively blocked the plan for two 410-foot turbines on town land near the water department on Commerce Park Drive. CVEC has opted to appeal the non-decision to the Department of Public Utilities.
The proposed amendment (Article 5 of the special town meeting) states that “municipal wind energy turbines regardless of size shall be permitted by right on town-owned property in any industrial district (such as Commerce Park off Freeman’s Way).”
“I feel somewhat bad proposing this action,” conceded Town Administrator Charles Sumner. “But it’s the only chance we have to build these turbines.”
So the planning board’s effective denial would be moot, as it no longer would have jurisdiction over the turbines built in the industrial zone on town property.
“I believe this article circumvents a duly elected town board vote,” said Mitch Relin, president of Brewster Citizens for Responsible Energy. “You didn’t like that vote so you want to disregard a duly elected and duly charged town board. Is that how the process works in this town?”
Brewster would receive a $100,000 annual lease payment from CVEC as well as a break on electric rates, bringing in a combined $3.6 million over 15 years of operation.
“We had a project that was wildly supported at town meeting on several occasions,” explained Sumner, “and it ended up where three members of the planning board created a situation where the town doesn’t have the ability to construct wind turbines.”
Appealing the non-decision in court would take up to two-and-a-half years, Sumner said, and the town would have to hire an attorney. Concerned that the state’s energy credits could dry up, he asked Town Planner Sue Leven to draft the article and town counsel reviewed it.
“With this, town meeting can make an immediate decision on how they feel about the continued pursuit of this project,” Sumner said.
“This is the best solution for everybody concerned,” Selectman Greg Levasseur agreed. “This board still has direction from town meeting voters to make this project work – so we’re going before the people who gave us directions and saying, ‘What do you want us to do?’”
“The town now knows exactly what they’re voting on,” Selectmen Chairman Ed Lewis added. “All of you will have an opportunity to vote against this.”
The planning board will hold a public hearing to review the amendment (probably on April 27) but it can only offer an opinion. However, the bylaw change requires a two-thirds majority to pass at town meeting.
“I welcome voting Article 5,” declared opponent Rick Judd. “We need one-third and one person to effectively say ‘no’ to this. What concerns me is what CVEC said about going around the process and going to the DPU [Department of Public Utilities] and seeking an exemption. But I have a lot of confidence [about] who will show up at this (town) meeting.”
“I ask all of you to rescind Article 5 and let this entire project fade into history,” urged one resident. “This town is divided worse than any other time I can remember. There are people who will not speak to other people.”
“This article will pit one part of the town against the other,” Relin said.
Richard Harb thinks the ploy is too drastic.
“The town meeting did not vote to put wind turbines up as a matter of right,” he declared. “The town voted for a process. You’re saying the town doesn’t like the process.”
Regardless of that, voters must still approve the new process.
“If you’re opposed to the project, go to town meeting. If you support the project, go to town meeting,” Sumner said. “We don’t have the time to spend years in a legal process to resolve this issue.”
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