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State OKs Bourne wind turbine law

BOURNE – The town’s new, stricter bylaw governing large-scale wind turbines has received final approval from the state.

“A municipality’s broad zoning power includes the authority to encourage appropriate development of wind resources,” the letter from Assistant Attorney General Kelli Gunagan, issued Tuesday, states.

The attorney general’s approval is required for any zoning bylaw change. This time around, however, attorneys were also reviewing an appeal of the bylaw filed earlier this summer by the backers of the proposed New Generation Wind project.

“We’re better for it now than we were before,” Selectman Peter Meier said of the approval. Meier was a member of the planning board at the time of the vote and the only member of that board to approve the bylaw.

But proponents of the wind project are “disappointed,” New Generation spokesman Greg O’Brien of the Stony Brook Group said.

“The AG’s review did not address all of our issues, and did not address the process (of approval),” O’Brien said. That process included a chaotic special town meeting in May in which the power went out, causing some residents to leave before a vote was taken.

But decisions of bylaws are made with “presumption made in favor of the validity of the municipal bylaws” and won’t be disapproved unless they don’t comply with state laws, according to Gunagan’s letter.

The new bylaw effectively places a moratorium on larger turbines by requiring setbacks from residential areas that are impossible under the town’s current layout.

The five-turbine New Generation Wind project proposed for Bournedale is exempt from the new restrictions because project plans were filed before the bylaw was in place.

Selectman Jamie Sloniecki, who has publicly expressed his disapproval of the New Generation Wind project, said the new bylaw goes a long way toward protecting the town’s “rural character” and thus its draw for tourists.

“I think this is best for the town of Bourne. “¦ We’re a tourist destination,” he said.

Gunagan’s letter pinpointed two concerns she had about the bylaw and recommended that Town Counsel Robert Troy look at them.

Gunagan questioned turbine setback requirements and the town’s requirement of “financial surety” in the form of a bond from companies looking to build wind turbines.

The town plans to look over Gunagan’s concerns and, if officials decide revisions are made, return the bylaw to voters to make the changes, Troy said.

Though the approval letter allows the bylaw to go into effect immediately after it is posted by a constable, it leaves open the possibility of a second opinion in the form of a lawsuit.

“We express no view on how a court might resolve such a challenge based on a full factual record,” it states.

New Generation Wind has already filed a complaint against the town with the Barnstable land court but has not formally served the town, O’Brien said.

But with the state approval, project backers will now move forward with the lawsuit, he said.

“The AG’s letter doesn’t settle this,” he said.