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FinCom hears from petitioners on wind turbine Article

At the 2/2/12 Fairhaven Finance Committee meeting, all eleven members were present to hear petitioners of the February 15th Special Town Meeting article requesting the shutdown of the Town’s wind turbine project. The FinCom spent nearly two hours reviewing materials, hearing arguments and then discussing it among themselves.

In the end, however, they postponed voting until February 9th when Town Counsel’s opinion on the article’s legality may be available.

Executive Secretary Jeffrey Osuch said that the Selectboard sought Town Counsel’s opinion and expected to receive a final draft of it on February 6th, after which it would be sent to the FinCom. Meanwhile, the FinCom took up all four articles for the Special Town Meeting.

Article 1, labor contracts, was incomplete, as it did not contain the clerical union’s settlement. It was not voted on. Articles 2 and 3 regarding the recall and setting of term limits for town elected officials respectively, were voted unanimously (11-0) as “yield to the petitioner.”

A “yield to the petitioner” vote as FinCom Chairperson John Roderiques described it meant that the article did not meet the standards set forth in the FinCom by-laws or by precedence for their recommendation.

First to speak on Article 4 regarding the wind turbines was Robert “Bob” Espindola, one of the petitioners. In summary, he raised concerns that the lease for Lot 9 may be invalid as it was not voted on by TM in 2007; that the energy generated from the project may cost the Town more than the Town will receive from NSTAR; and that the decommissioning funds may not be adequate to dismantle the turbine if needed.

Mr. Espindola also covered the risks of wind turbines and how these wind turbines were substantially different than those at Mt. Wachusett Community College in size, wind speed, and power level. He said there were far more residences within 2000 feet of the Fairhaven turbines than in other communities used for comparison, including Falmouth which had halted their turbines.

Finally, he said that everything had changed since the 2007 TM vote: the contract, the developer, the power to be generated, the site location, energy incentives, energy markets, financial markets, and credit markets. He said that the health impact information has also changed in five years since TM voted on it.

Dawn Devlin distributed data on home property values in the vicinity of the wind turbines, but did not speak on the issue.

Regarding the contract issues presented by Mr. Espindola, Mr. Roderiques said that the Town had the Green Communities Act to thank, as it allowed the Selectboard to bypass the permitting process and abutter notification. As for the vote that authorized the Selectboard to sign the contract, Mr. Roderiques said it would likely be the last time that happened, given the public outcry.

However, if TM did not have the authority to rescind the contract, then the FinCom should recommend the article not be adopted, Mr. Roderiques said. Several FinCom members disagreed.

“What’s the harm in TM making the recommendation to the Selectmen?” said member Lisa Plante. She said she believed the matter should “go to the people.”

“Why not let town meeting recommend to the Selectmen what they want?” said member Jennifer Bishop, concurring with Ms. Plante.

“If town meeting votes to rescind and it’s not legal, so what?” said member Theresa Szala. She said that the FinCom’s recommendation could still be made on the financial ramifications. “I’ve got a huge problem with [Mr. Roderiques’ statement] that if it was illegal, it’s the job of this committee to vote it down.”

Mr. Roderiques argued that TM was not entitled to vote on an illegal article, and the moderator would need to make that call. He said he was offering his opinion that the Finance Committee should not recommend an illegal article for adoption.

Member Padraic Elliott said that he had the same concern as Ms. Szala.

“Whether it is legal or not, I don’t feel I’m in any position to make that determination. What I’m going to vote on is the ramifications of the article. My vote will not be factored on whether it is legal or not,” said Mr. Elliott.

Theodore “Ted” Lorentzen said that the project was ongoing for many years.

“I wonder why other people never paid any attention to it…It’s been going on for a long time,” said Mr. Lorentzen. It began with the Green Community Act, he said.

As he started to debate the issue with Mr. Espindola, Mr. Roderiques interrupted the discussion. At that, Mr. Lorentzen left the room.

Mr. Espindola said, “You can’t see the contract till after it’s signed. Everything’s done behind closed doors, and you can’t see it till it’s signed. [Now] you’re telling us it’s too late.”

Ms. Szala said, in all fairness to the people who brought this up now, she, like many people, thought the wind turbine was not going to be built since the contract hadn’t been signed before 12/31/08 as voted on at TM in 2007.

The FinCom did not vote on the matter but scheduled it for the February 9th meeting.

In other business, the FinCom reviewed the spring Annual TM Article 4, General Government budget and voted unanimously (11-0) to recommend the following:

• Item 21, Engineering, $2,000
• Item 50, Memorial Day, $2,500
• Item 56, FICA (payroll Medicare payments), $305,000
• Item 58, Rape Crisis Project, $2,000
• Item 59, Fine Arts, $1,000
• Item 61, General Fund debt, interest, and interest on temporary loans, $2,351,300
• Item 62, Sewer Fund debt, interest, and interest on temporary loans, $678,000 with a typo on interest corrected at meeting.

The FinCom also voted 10-1 on Item 1, Moderator, for $800, with Ms. Bishop voting in opposition as a moderator has not been selected.