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Wind turbine installation bylaw or moratorium?

SHELBURNE – Selectmen’s Chairman John Payne met with the Planning Board during its Dec. 14 meeting about the possibility of adopting an industrial wind turbine bylaw.

Payne brought a letter posing 10 questions selectmen had for the local planners to consider. Questions include whether wind turbines should be covered in a separate section and be limited to overlay districts similar to those sometimes stipulated for cellular telecommunication towers and what requirements are necessary to ensure timely tax payments after wind turbines are operational.

The board had also obtained bylaw drafts from the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) and the state Department of Economic Resources to use as templates in wording an industrial wind turbine bylaw.

Payne noted a resident’s request that planners initiate an immediate one-year moratorium and appoint a study committee to review wind turbine installation applications on several criteria, including financial, health and environmental issues, over a limited timeframe.

“You can’t just declare one; it’s a process,” said Payne. “You can take one of the bylaw drafts and schedule a public hearing on that draft, so that any application that comes in after the public hearing is subject to the draft, if it is approved. The bylaw can be changed and modified and applications would be subject to the new versions. At the same time, you can announce a moratorium bylaw and present both on the town meeting warrant, so if the industrial wind turbine bylaw is rejected, there can still be a moratorium as a back-up.”

Payne suggested that a year would suffice to make a review.

While a recent application to build an eight-turbine wind “farm” on Mt. Massaemet was abruptly withdrawn during a public meeting in November, Planning Board Chair Vincent Matthew Marchese expressed concern that if a wind turbine project application were to be put on the table before a bylaw can be passed in a public hearing, it would be subject to current bylaws that do not directly address wind turbines.

Board member Beth Simmonds will research moratoriums and the health and financial ramifications of multiple wind turbine installations while board member Doug Finn will dig through the submitted bylaw drafts and obtain others from Ashfield, Becket, Belchertown, Hawley, Heath and other towns. Marchese will check with the Franklin Regional Council of Governments for financial assistance regarding costs associated with developing an industrial wind turbine bylaw and will check in with selectmen if the board needs legal counsel.

The next planning board meeting to address the bylaw and moratorium topics will be Wednesday, Jan. 11 at 7 p.m., which Marchese has decided to hold in the upstairs Memorial Hall theater space in expectation of a large number of interested residents wanting to attend it.