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Paying attention in Bradford

If anyone needs a demonstration of democracy in action, you can find one right around the corner in the Bradford section of Westerly.

Just last week some 80 residents there made it known during a packed meeting in the heat of a July night that the Westerly Town Council had better go back to the drawing board with its plans to locate wind turbines in their neighborhood. The Bradford section was selected for the turbines, after other locations didn’t pan out. Residents argued the site chosen by town leaders in their area of town was too close to homes and they wanted no part of the two 450-foot tall turbines, one at the Bradford Preserve, and one off of Old Carriage Road on town-owned land used by the water department. They expressed concern about the potential for decreased property values and complained about living near the large spinning blades of the turbines.

In the end, what they were saying loud and clear was: we live here and we don’t want it and we’re standing up and telling our elected representatives as much. The council listened and agreed to drop the plan.

The turbine issue was only the most recent issue in which Bradford residents stood up strong for themselves. They didn’t much care for the way their fire department leaders tried to force through a new firehouse to the tune of almost $1 million during the 2010 annual meeting. That debacle has grown to a larger issue that continues today, with district officials and residents disagreeing over the very future of the district. Residents succeeded in overturning the 2010 annual meeting vote to build a new station and that led to discussions about merging with other companies, renovating the station or sticking with the plan to build a new station elsewhere.

At one of the many meetings about the fire department over the last year, one residents said “Tonight shows that we have a voice and we decide what our district does. If we consolidate then we have no voice.”

All taxpayers in all towns have a voice. Unfortunately, with paltry voter turnouts for elections and town and school budget votes, it appears that many are unwilling to use that “voice,” even quietly in a voting booth. We should all take a lesson from Bradford taxpayers, who have made full use of democracy.