Last month selectmen accepted the recommendation of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to proceed with choosing one of four firms that would engage residents to facilitate a consensus building process on what should be done with the town-owned wind turbines at the Falmouth Wastewater Treatment Facility.
Since that time the board has sought public input on those four firms – CLF Ventures of Boston; the Consensus Building Institute of Cambridge; the Meister Consulting Group of Boston; and Raab Associates of Boston.
While some residents have notified selectmen of their preference, others have suggested to the board that none of the firms were suitable because they have “ties to the wind industry,” as mentioned in one letter from J. Malcolm Donald of Ambleside Drive, Falmouth, an abutter to the wind turbines.
So last night when selectmen quickly voted at their meeting to approve the Consensus Building Institute as its choice, there was grumbling from the roughly 10 residents who showed up to engage the board in dialogue.
But when Chairman Mary (Pat) Flynn refused to take any comment, noting that the board had already received it in writing from the public over the past month, Mr. Donald walked up to the podium prepared to make a statement.
As Ms. Flynn pounded the gavel and told Mr. Donald he was out of order, he blurted out “This is absurd” before walking back to his seat.
He then called for selectmen to meet with neighbors impacted by the turbines, a request they have made several times in writing.
“That will happen in the near future,” Ms. Flynn replied.
Prior to the vote, Selectman Melissa C. Freitag pointed out that there are two camps on the issue: one in favor of none of the proposed facilitators and another in support of the four finalists. Her choice, which the board ultimately agreed to, was the Consensus Building Institute.
In a written correspondence to selectmen last month, Nils Bolgen, program director for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, pointed out the advantages of the Consensus Building Institute, which came highly recommended.
He wrote that the Consensus Building Institute “appears to be particularly well-suited based upon their levels of experience with (a) engagement processes with citizen participation (as opposed to processes including only institutional stakeholders) and (b)processes related to impacts of completed facilities (as opposed to planning-type processes).”
Selectman Kevin E. Murphy piggybacked on Ms. Freitag’s comments concerning the two points of view that have been expressed about the facilitators.
He said the board has taken into consideration the argument made by some that the four firms are biased because they were being paid by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. Still, he stressed that the board needed to move the process forward.
And he acknowledged the “barrage of letters challenging the board of selectmen to sit down” with abutters to discuss their issues about the wind turbines.
“It would be nice to sit down, but this is our only forum,” he said. “The reason you don’t get a response [to e-mailsJ is because it is against the open meeting law. This is the only forum to discuss
this in, otherwise it would be a violation of open meeting law.”
He assured residents that their calls were not going unheard by the board, but again emphasized the need to adhere to the open meeting law.
With the board’s vote, the Consensus Building Institute will now sit down with town officials and residents to determine if both sides can come to an agreement on what should be done with the town-owned wind turbines.
Among the options on the table are to decommission the two turbines and take them down at what Weston & Sampson has estimated would cost a minimum of $700,000, excluding storage and monthly maintenance. If the town were to sell them, it is estimated it could receive as much as $600,000 for the two machines.
Another possibility – to relocate the turbines elsewhere in town – would cost an additional $4.48 million that would cover both the permitting work and construction.
Also proposed is modifying those homes nearby, an option that Weston & Sampson has estimated would cost between $360,000 and $1 million, depending on the number of homes.
Town officials could also continue its current strategy of shutting down the wind turbines under certain conditions.
Through this month the Consensus Building Institute will meet with residents in confidential interviews and focus groups to determine which, if any, of these options are most desirable.
The board’s vote last night comes as the blades of Wind 2 begin turning today as part of testing prior to the machine going online later this month. Once operational, Wind 2, which was erected last January, will run without any limitations for 30 days, during which time town officials will record complaints and study the impacts on abutters. After that point the machine will be shut down when wind speeds reach roughly 23 miles per hour.
The decision to operate Wind 2 in such a fashion was made a Town Meeting in November when selectmen came to an agreement with Barry A. Funfar of Ridgeview Drive, West Falmouth, who had submitted an article on the warrant seeking both turbines be shut down.
Instead the two sides agreed to shut down Wind 1 and test the impacts of Wind 2 once it became operational.
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