SHELBURNE – A proposal for a commercial wind turbine power facility on Mount Massaemet – which was presented to the Zoning Board of Appeals in September, then withdrawn by the applicant in November – left several town boards wondering how to improve communications between the volunteer board members, without violating state open meeting laws.
On Monday night, selectmen hosted an all-boards meeting to consider how to close the notification gaps between such groups as the Planning Board, ZBA, Board of Health, Conservation Commission, Open Space Committee and Agricultural Commission – all of which were interested in the utility-scale wind farm proposed for Shelburne Center.
ZBA Chairman Joseph Palmeri said the town’s bylaw, requiring the ZBA to give other boards 30 days to review special permit proposals before the public hearing, was very constraining, considering that some boards only pick up their Town Hall correspondence once a week.
The wind farm application had been filed on Sept. 6, and the public hearing date set for Oct. 6 – spawning concerns from other boards about not getting their 30-day review period. The public hearing date was moved to Nov. 17, to give the other boards a chance to review and discuss the turbine proposal at their respective meetings.
Palmeri said he would like to change the bylaw requiring notification to all boards 30 days before the public hearing date is set – because the public hearing has to be done within 65 days of the special permit application, he told selectmen.
With the project withdrawn, the town’s Planning Board is starting to work on a wind turbine siting bylaw, which they say would help both residents and prospective wind-turbine developers know what the town expects in terms of property setbacks, height and other requirements.
Because the other town boards are interested in the turbine issue, Planning Board Chairman Matt Marchese suggested sending them emails to notify them of Planning Board meetings and the agenda. But Palmeri worried that receiving such emails on a home computer could be seen as violating public process.
Selectman Joseph Judd said he didn’t see a problem with notifying other boards of a meeting “as long as there was no deliberation” about an issue.
Each board has a town hall email address, but not every board checks email daily, or even weekly.
A few board members suggested posting meetings and/or meeting agendas on the town’s website. Agricultural Commissioner John Herron suggested creating a “bulletin board,” to be linked to the town website, so that special meetings and activities can be posted in a public space, that is accessible from any computer.
Meanwhile, with the wind turbine bylaw to develop, the Planning Board has increased its meeting frequency from once a month to twice a month. “Wind – in some form or another – will be on every agenda for the next six months to a year,” Marchese predicted. “This is a monster,” he said of the bylaw research. “I do envision, once we have a final direction, we may hold a joint meeting with many boards.”
Besides taking up more of the Planning Board’s time, Marchese said dealing with wind turbine issues means the board will need a part-time clerk, to help with the paperwork, and will need more access to legal counsel and wind turbine expertise.
Marchese said the town cut a few hundred dollars from the Planning Board’s budget a few years ago, as a cost-cutting measure, but that the board may request that money back for wind-turbine related research.
Selectmen’s Chairman John Payne stated that the town’s policy is for all boards to get the selectmen’s chairman’s permission first before using the town’s lawyer Donna MacNicol. He said the more narrow and focused the questions are, the better.
“There is a lot of information out there, and I look for you to look at it before going to (MacNicol),” he said.
Another issue, said Conservation Commissioner Thomas Miner, was the “tsunami of material” that flowed into town boards in response to the wind turbine proposal. “The town clerk has no way to process (this volume) and make it available to the public,” he said. He said the town is charging photocopying fees, which has cut down on the amount of requested documents. But he suggested hiring high school students or developing an internship program for students to help file or photocopy some of the submitted materials. He said the internship would give young people an idea of how town government works and give them a way to become involved.
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