SALEM – Neighbors of Winter Island have accused city officials of orchestrating a “predetermined” campaign to build a 380-foot wind turbine in the public park.
About 30 residents who oppose the proposal, most from Winter Island Road and Salem Willows, submitted a letter to Mayor Kim Driscoll and others claiming the city has been trying to “engineer” public opinion on the controversial $4.2 million project.
The letter was written as Driscoll and other turbine supporters prepare to begin a public information campaign to clear up misinformation they feel has circulated since a contentious, Aug. 2 public forum on the project.
The letter, written by former City Councilor Kevin Harvey and attorney Edward Moriarty, who both live near the park and oppose the turbine, criticized the forum, which was run by the mayor and included presentations by the city’s Renewable Energy Task Force and the city’s top energy official.
“It became very clear,” the letter states, “that Paul Marquis, the city’s energy and sustainability manager, along with other presenters at the public forum, were taking steps to engineer the public opinion on sighting an industrial wind turbine in a public park, and to achieve their own predetermined outcome of locating this industrial turbine in Winter Island Park.”
Marquis said any suggestion that there was a predetermined site is “pure fiction.” The site was picked, he said, after a lengthy, scientific and open process.
Winter Island was one of two viable sites recommended by a preliminary study, officials said. The other, Forest River Park, was eliminated because it is too close to residences.
The city tested the wind at Winter Island for one year, from late 2009 to the end of last year, after erecting a temporary wind tower at the park. A recently completed study by a consultant, which analyzed the wind tests, said Winter Island appears to be a feasible site that would generate energy and revenue for the city.
The letter also criticized an official for saying the city was in a “mad dash” to secure funding for the project. Marquis said he used the phrase “mad dash,” but was referring to the need to meet grant deadlines.
In interviews, both Harvey and Moriarty said neighbors were especially upset to see a timeline at the Aug. 2 forum showing a completion date in the fall of 2012.
It made it look like a “done deal,” Moriarty said. Harvey said he has become convinced the city is only “going through the motions” of conducting a public process.
Marquis conceded that the timeline may have been a mistake, saying it represented a “best-case scenario” assuming funding and public support.
The letter also criticized the city for not making the final version of the project feasibility study available until a few days after the Aug. 2 forum. An earlier version of the lengthy study, which was almost identical except for a few minor changes, was posted online about May 19, Marquis said.
In an interview, Moriarty also took issue with Pat Gozemba, co-chairwoman of the Salem Alliance for the Environment, which is considering its own public information campaign to support the turbine. Gozemba, in a newspaper article, said the wind turbine issue should be decided by all residents of Salem, not just those who live closest and are “shouting the loudest.”
“Since when is an issue of the public health and safety determined by majority vote,” Moriarty said.
The neighbors’ letter, which was submitted to the city clerk’s office, asked that any “potential actions” on the project be announced to the City Council and public at least two weeks before any deliberations.
“If there is going to be an open public dialogue on the sighting of this industrial wind turbine,” the letter stated, “it has to be defined, fair, honest, and transparent and the outcome can’t be predetermined.”
Driscoll said she understands residents are concerned and is glad they are interested and involved. But she, and other officials, said the city has followed a public process, made reports available, gone before the Park and Recreation Commission for approval to do the wind test, discussed the project with the City Council, and publicized it at fairs and farmers markets. One official noted that it has been discussed by the task force, which meets monthly, for the past two years or so and only a handful of people have attended.
The mayor stressed that the project will require approvals from the park board and, for bond funding, from eight of the 11 city councilors.
“There will be a lot of eyes on this and a lot of opportunities for comment,” she said.
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