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Shelburne wants a wind farm bylaw

SHELBURNE – Does Shelburne need a wind turbine bylaw? If so, can the Planning Board prepare one in time for annual town meeting voters in May? Or should the town adopt a moratorium on any wind-turbine proposals, to give town officials more time to study “template” wind-turbine bylaws and create one that is a perfect fit for Shelburne?

On Wednesday night, the town Planning Board grappled with these and turbine-related issues, as it decides how to move forward, in the wake of a special permit hearing that resulted in the withdrawal of a $40 million, eight wind-turbine commercial wind farm proposed for Mount Massaemet.

The proponent Frederick “Don” Field, withdrew his plans in November after several town officials and others criticized the proposal for not being detailed enough.

The ZBA accepted the withdrawal “without prejudice,” which means that Field could re-apply for a wind project at another time.

Because the town currently has no wind turbine bylaw, the commercial wind-farm proposal was to have gone through a generic special permit process.

But Planning Board members believe a wind-turbine siting bylaw would make the application process clearer for both town officials and for anyone who w.ants to know the town’s requirements for any wind project within its borders.

“Last week, selectmen sent a letter, asking the Planning Board to take up the issue of a (wind turbine) bylaw,” said Planning Board Chairman. V. Matthew Marchese. We’re trying to avoid some of the unpleasantries of the last process, where the applicant didn’t know what (the town) wanted.”

“One comment of (Selectman) John Payne was, if we were to expeditiously get a template of a wind turbine bylaw, once we have held a publie hearing, legally we couldn’t take in a turbine application process until the process has ended with a town meeting. If the town meeting approves that bylaw, the application (for a wind farm) would be subject to the new bylaw. If the bylaw is defeated, the application goes in under the special permit process we have now.”

Under a moratorium, he explained, “no one can submit an application until the town develops a bylaw.”

Meanwhile, the town’s Open Space Committee is recommending a “temporary moratorium” on wind turbine development.

“This would give the town more time to explore the issues and give citizens a chance to weigh in on their current priorities …” says the letter, which was sent to several other town boards.

“The urgency, from my perspective, is time.” Marchese said there isn’t that much time to go through the public hearing process and have a bylaw ready for May’s annual town meeting.

The board is meeting again h on Jan. 25, 7 p.m., at the Buckland Shelburne Elementary School to hear from planning experts and decide “what direction we’re going to take,” according to Marchese.

The board is planning to invite Peggy Sloan, director of planning and development for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, Jim Barry, western regional coordinator of the Green Communities Program and Town Counsel Donna MacNicol to that meeting.

The school has been tentatively named as the meeting place to accommodate the large audience that has been coming to meetings regarding the wind turbine issues.

According to Marchese, FRCOG has received a technical assistance grant, and the Shelburne Planning Board could apply for technical services from FRCOG to help with the bylaw process. If awarded, FRCOG could help with some of the paperwork and administrative duties connected with the bylaw public hearing and other procedures. Marchese said Sloan is assisting Heath with a similar process.

Planning Board member Christopher Davenport suggested inviting MacNicol to answer the board’s legal questions about the moratorium process and other options for going forward.

Jim Barry of the Green Communities Program has developed a model bylaw that fleshes out several categories, including safety, environmental impact and decommissioning rules, said Tyler Studds, of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

Studds was invited to the meeting by Norman Davenport, one of the landowners whose property was part of the Mount Massaemet wind turbine proposal. Studds gave a presentation of various services that could be provided by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to help towns determine the suitability of a wind farm proposal.

Norman Davenport is also chairman of the town’s Conservation Commission, although he recused himself from that board’s discussion of last year’s wind farm proposal.

He said he has a two-year contract for Field to do wind research of Davenport’s portion of what he described as “a very windy ridge.”

“I don’t know if this is a good or bad idea,” Davenport said. “A year from May will be the end of the two-year agreement. At this point, I just need more information.”

Studds, program manager for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, said the center can provide technical assistance to explore “if a project is a good fit for a community.”

“We administer programs to ensure any wind energy proposal is appropriate for a community,” he said. For instance, a program called “Commonwealth Winds” offers grants for feasibility studies that ask if a project is technically feasible, if it’s legally permissible, and economically viable. He said it can also examine environmental impacts, effects on property values and effects on the community. He said acoustic studies are a “huge issue of late,” and that a lot of technical information is now required from any wind farm developer who gets a grant from the Energy Center.

“The Planning Board still makes decisions for the town,” said Studds. “These tools are just here to support that.”

The Energy Center can also provide a “neutral” professional facilitator to work with communities and set up a process for wind turbine sitings.

When asked what happens if Field were to submit a new plan before a new bylaw is in place, Marchese replied that, if the application was submitted before a public hearing was held for a wind-turbine siting bylaw, it would qualify for a special permit hearing and would go through a process similar to the one that the Mount Massaemet Windfarm Inc. just went through.

Once the public hearing was opened, the application would wait until the new bylaw was either approved or defeated by the town meeting voters.