The Town Council approved the new energy component of the town’s Comprehensive Plan on Monday, June 4, but not before hearing concerns about the plan’s statement on land-based wind turbines.
The new energy section, drafted after more than a year and a half of deliberation by the Island Energy Plan Committee, lays out suggestions for mitigating the island’s high energy costs. Town Planner Jane Weidman compiled the document, and then the Planning Board fine-tuned the wording at more than a dozen meetings.
Now that the Town Council approved the plan, with a minor wording change that would allow for review as new energy technologies emerge, it will become a part of the town’s Comprehensive Plan, and then be sent to the state. The state will have several months to review the plan.
“It’s a pretty ambitious plan,” said Weidman. The 50-plus page document contains 28 action items on wind energy, biodiesel, solar power and more.
“I think we have a project that is very good,” Planning Board Chair Margie Comings said. “It represents different facets of the community.”
However, not all community members agreed with Comings. Attorney Eric DiMario, representing a collection of property owners on West Beach Road, voiced concerns regarding a possible municipal wind turbine proposed at the Transfer Station near West Beach properties.
DiMario requested two changes to the energy plan: removing any mention of the West Beach properties from the plan and the imposition of a one-year moratorium on any permitting of a municipal wind turbine. The moratorium would provide for a waiting period to make ensure a property is a proper choice for a wind turbine.
Dimario’s argument was backed by planner Joseph Lombardo, a hired expert representing West Side Road. Lombardo argued that because the energy plan mentions the West Beach Road properties and depicts photographs of the road, it suggests that West Beach Road is already a possible site for a wind turbine. However, he argued that the process of locating a proper site would be complex – involving feasibility studies and zoning permits – too complex for the plan to already mention site locations.
“The moratorium is a way of putting on the brakes,” said Lombardo. “And get the financial feasibility study done, enact the zoning ordinance … and be fully prepared.”
Weidman argued that taking out the mention of the West Beach Road properties would in effect omit the process that the town went through regarding planning and zoning. “It really is intended to be a background description on what happened, what the zoning stands for, and generally what the process is,” said Weidman.
The Town Council changed the zoning designation at the Transfer Station to allow for a municipal wind turbine in December 2009.
Weidman also argued that the plan essentially calls for a moratorium and a feasibility study for turbines. First Warden Kim Gaffett agreed that the town would pursue a feasibility study. “A moratorium is not what’s before us tonight,” Gaffett added.
Arlene Tunney, who lives near the Transfer Station, offered information that argued against land-based wind turbines in general. She referenced studies that cite noise increase due to the turbines, financial impracticality and a 2012 study that described “wind turbine syndrome as sleep disturbance, high blood pressure, headaches, sinusitis, nausea, dizziness and rapid heart rate.”
Town Council member Peter Baute, who headed up the energy committee creating the plan, pointed out that Tunney included no research about the positive impacts of wind turbines. “It’s a fact that we can produce wind [energy] for approximately eight cents a kilowatt,” he said. “On Block Island, where we pay 43 cents per kilowatt hour, it’s pretty hard to lose money with onshore wind.”
“This energy component also includes biodiesel, solar, land and how to handle municipal waste, so there’s a whole realm of things we can consider,” said Gaffett. There was no public opposition to any aspect of the document other than the wind turbines.
The council approved an ordinance prohibiting closed containers of alcoholic beverages on public beaches, with little dissent.
From the audience, Bruce Montgomery suggested amending beach fire permits to notify applicants that alcohol is not allowed. Gaffett suggested that it would make more sense to put a sign up where they apply, and not amend the permit itself.
Council Member Dick Martin expressed initial qualms about the ordinance, out of concern for potential unequal enforcement.
Police Chief Vincent Carlone argued that enforcing the ordinance would be no different than enforcing the existing law prohibiting open alcohol containers: on a priority schedule that depends on staffing. “This ordinance is just another tool,” said Carlone. “For instance, on the Surf [Hotel] beach, we have 2,500 kids carrying alcohol … we don’t have to wait for them to open the alcohol.”
Carlone later provided a brief update on July 4 plans, including additional vehicles to transport individuals not in compliance with alcohol ordinances.
Hunting Regulations Opposed
The council received letters from several archers and bow hunters opposing newly proposed Rhode Island hunting regulations that would prohibit pop-up blinds and reduce the archery season by 15 days. The Town Council made these recommendations to the state, asking the Department of Environmental Management to adopt these changes.
John Fournier, head of the Block Island Archers Association, said that last season bow hunters took 30 deer, and almost all of them via pop-up blinds – cover devices used by hunters. A ground blind, he mentioned, was most effective on Block Island due to the lack of trees required for the alternative treestand hunting method. Block Island would effectively be the only place in the state where pop-up blinds are prohibited, he said.
“The archers did take 30 deer last year, and I think it’s not a good idea for the Town Council to ask for new regulations on deer hunting,” said George Mellor, identifying himself as a member of the Deer Task Force, but speaking as a citizen. “We’re trying to reduce the restrictions on hunting on Block Island.”
Gaffett argued that the 15-day reduction stemmed from concern by both hunters and the Police Department about overlapping deer and gun seasons. The prohibition on blinds was brought up by hunters also out of safety concerns.
However, Gaffett also noted that a pending state regulation requires the blinds to have orange in them, mitigating safety risks. Fournier argued that blinds are not a safety concern, regardless.
With the state regulation regarding orange pop-ups in mind, the council voted to inform the state that it had reconsidered the ban of pop-up blinds only, but not the overlapping seasons.
Edith Blane, speaking during public comment, raised concerns regarding an unsafe walking path to the beach at the corner of Dodge and Water streets across from the National Hotel. Blane said that Gaffett had told her that work had been done on the corner, but when Blane called the Coastal Resources Management Council, the last record the agency had was a maintenance application filed by island Building Official Marc Tillson dated March 10, 2009.
Gaffett said that there has, in fact, been more recent maintenance done on the corner. Blane said that it was not enough, especially since kids like to play and head down the path, which is steep and dangerous. “One day that path is going to let go,” Blane said.
“Come in to my office and we’ll talk about it,” suggested Town Manager Nancy Dodge.
The audience applauded when the Town Council approved an amendment to add William Penn’s property, Plat 18, Lot 66, to the town’s historic district. Penn, current chairman of the Historic District Council, volunteered his own property to be added to the historic district. He explained that he wanted to preserve the lot’s heritage and history, especially its original stone walls.
The council commended Penn’s actions. “I personally thought it was a great thing to do,” said Martin. “I do believe that other people have the right to do the same thing, and I’m glad you stepped forth.”
The amendment would not affect neighboring properties.
The council approved a request for temporary island storage of an uninhabited camper, owned by Peggy Meckling. Meckling is working for Mabel’s during the summer.
The council also approved two date changes. One changed the dates seasonal shellfish licenses are issued to May 16 through October 15. Dates previously were June 14 through October 15. Residential licenses were also changed: now offered May 16 to May 15 annually. The other was a request by the town clerk to change the town’s fee schedule to incorporate changes in advertising for probate court hearings – previously held Mondays, now on Wednesdays.
It was announced that there is an opening on the Harbors Committee due to Rob Gilpin’s resignation from the group.
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