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Shelburne: No conflict of interest in wind farm case

SHELBURNE – Unless the town’s lawyer, Donna MacNicol, determines otherwise, selectmen have decided that Conservation Commissioner Alan Smith and Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Joseph Palmeri can participate in the special-permit process for a proposed wind farm on Mount Massaemet, despite conflict-of-interest concerns raised by those two men.

Two weeks ago, Smith and Palmeri asked the Board of Selectmen to find out if they risked violating the state’s conflict-of-interest laws if they deliberate on Mount Massaemet Windfarm Inc.’s proposal to install an eight-turbine wind facility in Shelburne Center.

Smith’s concern was that his wife is the sister of a landowner who will lease land to the windfarm developer, if the proposal goes through. Smith has already filed appropriate notices regarding the appearance of a conflict-of-interest. The Conservation Commission chairman Norman Davenport has recused himself from deliberations because he is one of the landowners of the property to be leased for the wind farm. If Smith withdrew from participation, that would leave only three out of five board members to review the windfarm proposal and make recommendations.

“I have no doubt in my mind that Alan Smith could do the job he was appointed to do,” said Selectman Joseph Judd. “I’ve known him for 35 years. I think the conflict is, in this situation, manageable. One member has already removed himself, which leaves that board at a disadvantage.”

Selectmen’s Chairman John Payne agreed, saying that Smith is also one of the most experienced board members and would contribute to the process.

Palmeri questioned whether he should participate in the process because he lives within the Patten Hill district, where the turbines are to be sited. His second conflict-of-interest concern was his “past and future” business dealings with the Dole Bros. Construction. Palmieri is an electrical contractor and builder George Dole is one of the landowners whose property would be leased for the wind farm.

According to what MacNicol told Payne, Palmeri’s past business with Dole has no bearing on a conflict of interest, and future business would only be a conflict if Palmeri were the only electrical contractor available to work for Dole. But since there are other companies, future business possibilities would not be a conflict, Payne said.

Payne said he gave MacNicol detailed information and a map of the properties to be involved in the turbine project; he said MacNicol was still reviewing the information she’d received from the state Ethics Commission.

Because the ZBA public hearing on the wind turbines is Nov. 17, at 7 p.m., the Board of Selectmen took votes Monday, so that the ZBA and conservation board could go forward.

However, selectmen are posting a meeting for Tuesday at 3 p.m., to vote on an unrelated matter. If MacNicol determines that either board member should be withdrawn from the process, selectmen will take up this issue then.

Two out of five Planning Board members, Christopher Davenport and Beth Simmonds, have read disclosures “of the appearance of a conflict of interest,” because of family ties to abutters of some of the landowners involved.

Both said they were advised by the state Ethics Commission to make the disclosures, but that they were legally able to review the wind turbine proposal and participate in their board’s discussion.

A third Planning Board member – Charles Washer, the brother-in-law of one of the landowners – has recused himself from participating in the discussions and recommendations that the Planning Board will make.