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Turnpike authority won’t take town to court over turbine

Despite whispers of possible legal action against the town, a letter sent recently by the state Turnpike and Bridge Authority to Town Council President Mike Schnack was nothing more than another effort to let Jamestown officials know of its opposition to a Taylor Point turbine.

“There are a number of reasons why we don’t think that a turbine should be built where it’s proposed,” said David Darlington, chairman of the authority’s board. “We just don’t think it’s the right spot. But we aren’t going to battle public expenditures against public expenditures. That’s twice the pain for the public.”

Although the authority has been outspoken in its attempt to move the proposed 200-foot windmill to a location away from the Newport Pell Bridge, Darlington said there was never any formal discussion about pursuing the matter legally.

“I guess we just came off that way,” he said.

Conclusions might have been jumped to after the authority brought an attorney to the Jan. 17 council meeting. The lawyer argued that shadow flicker would be dangerous to drivers if the structure were built so close to the bridge. Asked if the shadowfl icker argument was just a smoke screen, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said, “I think so.”

Keiser believes that the authority was using secondary defenses – such as shadow flicker from the blades and the overall distraction of the turbine – as support for its primary interest: aesthetics.

“There was a concern that there would be a traffic-safety hazard on the bridge,” Keiser said. “But there are so many visual distractions on any highway. There are a host of distractions if you were to drive over the bridge today.”

In the authority’s letter to Schnack, it only addresses visuals, and has no mention of distractions or shadow flicker. “We reiterate that we believe that the turbine will mar the aesthetics of the Newport Pell Bridge,” the letter reads. “The bridge is one of the most photographed, most recognized symbols in the state of Rhode Island.” It continues by saying that the artist’s depiction of what the turbine would look like from North Main Road “sullies the vista.”

Said Keiser, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Darlington said that he applauds the town for its efforts in supporting clean alternative energy, but believes a location that is of “greater distance from the bridge” would be better suited.

The problem with a different site, said Keiser, is that Taylor Point is the only spot approved by the voters and the bond won’t support another location.

“Unfortunately for Jamestown, we have ideal winds but only limited sites,” Keiser said.

The Conservation Commission objected to the original location of the turbine when the town decided to site it on the water side of Freebody Drive. According to Keiser, it has since been moved across the street, “less than 100 feet away.”

Conservation Commission Chairwoman Carol Trocki said that her panel has yet to take a position on the aesthetic aspect of the windmill. “We’ll weigh in on that at our April meeting,” she said.