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Council seeks grant for wind study

The Town Council met Wednesday and voted to submit a grant application to the R.I. Economic Development Corporation for $75,000 to perform a study to determine the feasibility of installing a municipally owned wind turbine on Block Island.

Electric Utilities Task Group member Bill Penn attended the meeting and said that the task group advised the town to move forward with the application. Rosemarie Ives, an island homeowner who has been vocal about energy issues at recent town meetings, urged the town to take a more comprehensive look at an energy solution for the island.

Ives suggested asking for a feasibility study that could determine what the best ratio of solar, wind and diesel generation would be to meet the island’s needs, and determine the best sites for each of those applications.

Council member Peter Baute explained that the time period to submit the proposal was very short and that the work for the wind turbine feasibility study had already been completed. He also said that the town was not eliminating solar energy as an option. He explained that energy audits being performed by Johnson Controls right now would identify town facilities that could benefit from the addition of solar power.

Council member Ken Lacoste questioned whether the feasibility study would be redundant since the state has begun a process to identify appropriate sites for wind turbines statewide.

Penn explained that the study would be more expansive than the state’s study – looking at considerations like turbines’ effect on the Block Island Power Company and its rate payers as well as whether the island’s distribution system could accommodate one or more turbine. The feasibility study would also incorporate the state’s data in its report.

Several audience members asked whether the study would address operational and view-shed concerns. Penn said that it would look at view-shed issues, flicker, noise and future maintenance among many other things.

Island resident Neil Lang said that the study was a good thing, as it would look at multiple sites for the possible wind turbine on the island, not simply the transfer station.

Ives also raised questions over the Deepwater Wind offshore turbines proposed for within three miles of Block Island’s coast during the public comment period. She warned that the Ocean Special Area Management Plan that had been adopted by the state would allow for more than the proposed five turbines to be placed off the island. She urged the council to adopt a resolution in its energy plan precluding additional turbines.

She also advocated for the inclusion of a “dark sky” provision, which would protect the island from light pollution.

Financial Town Meeting

The council adopted the warrant for the Financial Town Meeting that will determine if town voters want to approve spending $240,000 to purchase the Thomas Property – a duplex on High Street – for use as rental housing for police officers and town employees.

Island resident Cathy Payne asked why the town would need housing for police, as the state police are already given housing at the Coast Guard Station. The council explained that the housing would be intended for year-round officers or town employees.

The purchase price for the house is $725,000, with more than $500,000 coming from the estate of Violette Connolly, who left property to the town for rental housing for police in her will. Her property had to be sold to cover her final medical expenses, but the $500,000 remained. The court system is in the process of determining how best to honor the intent of her will.

Around $35,000 of the money the council is seeking from voters would go toward minor improvements to the house, including the addition of a firewall to separate the two units. Town Manager Nancy Dodge said the town is not opposed to the current owner of the property granting a six-month extension of its lease to its current tenants.

Miscellany

The town has applied for a $50,000 grant to install utility pedestals and do additional dredging in Old Harbor. The Army Corp of Engineers will be renovating the East Dock and doing some dredging next month.

The council voted to send a letter to the Planning Board asking them to review the affordable housing section of the town’s Zoning Ordinances. In particular it asked the board to review a section which puts a sunset date of December 31, 2010, on a provision to allow more than double density for affordable housing projects.

The council also announced that it was seeking the services of a Probate Judge. It will discuss how best to advertise for that position at a future meeting.