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Whalerock lawsuits approach final discussions

CHARLESTOWN – After months of lawsuits, counter suits and briefings, a meeting has finally been set to determine a date for final discussions on the Whalerock Renewable Energy LLC wind turbine project.

According to Whalerock’s attorney, Nicholas Gorham, a status conference with Judge Judith Savage has been scheduled for Thursday. Lawyers for all parties are expected to attend and a final date to hear the cases will be established. They include Gorham; Peter Ruggiero, representing Charlestown’s Town Council; Robert Craven, representing the town’s Zoning Board; and James Donnelly, representing a group of residents that live near the proposed turbines.

Whalerock plans to erect two, 262-foot wind turbine on 81 acres between King’s Factory Road and East Quail Run. Blades on the turbines would spin as high as 410 feet. The proposal is one the town’s most controversial and contested issues in recent memory.

The turbine project has been the subject of several legal actions over the past year, creating a complicated web of claims from multiple parties. While an ultimate legal decision may take some time and includes options such as trials and appeals, Gorham is happy the process is underway.

“These cases can move very slowly, so it is nice to see that some progress is being made,” he said. “The last briefs were filed in July, so it’s just been a matter of finding a mutually agreeable date to meet.”

In an April public hearing it was revealed that the attorneys would meet in Washington County Superior Court for a pre-hearing conference. Since then, the legal actions of the parties have been combined and all have filed briefs stating their position and the regulations that support their claims.

Last October, Donnelly filed a complaint in Washington County Superior Court on behalf of 33 neighbors of the project, challenging the Town Council’s initial wind ordinance. The civil filing claimed the ordinance unlawfully stripped the permitting authority for large-scale turbines from the Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Review and gave it solely to the Town Council. The suit achieved limited success, as it resulted in a temporary restraining order of a building permit but allowed the hearing process to continue.

In January, the Zoning Board declared the project was vested and thus fell under the conditions of the town’s initial wind ordinance if it’s legal; if not, a later, more restrictive version of the ordinance applies. The council is poised to pass a new ordinance on Monday that prohibits large turbines.

But the Zoning Board’s ruling prompted two additional lawsuits. In February, Donnelly filed a civil action on behalf of 49 residents against the Zoning Board and Whalerock Renewable Energy, questioning the board’s ruling.

The Town Council filed a case against its own Zoning Board for the same reason.

Not to be outdone, Gorham has challenged the Planning Commission’s authority, saying it can only advise the Zoning Board. He also claims that it violates state law because its membership is elected and not appointed.

Meanwhile, Larry LeBlanc of Whalerock has applied for a 39-lot affordable housing complex with the Planning Commission. He has also approached the Town Council with an offer to sell the 81-acre lot to the town for about $3 million.