August 17, 2012
Rhode Island

Responding to critics, Bristol pulls back from regional wind project

By Eric Dickervitz | As of Friday, August 17, 2012 |

Bristol’s involvement in the quest to build a regional wind turbine is in limbo after the town administrator yanked Bristol representatives from future meetings and the Bristol Town Council voted to oppose any new spending by the group.

The town administrator’s action came the day after Bristol resident Marina Peterson questioned her town’s ongoing involvement in the project. Along with Warren resident Andy Shapiro, a former member of the East Bay Energy Consoritum, and speaking at a Bristol Town Council meeting on Aug. 8, Ms. Peterson sharply criticized Planner Diane Williamson as the town’s representative to the consoritum.

The next day, Town Administrator Diane Mederos issued a memo to say that Bristol representatives will no longer attend consoritum meetings.

“Following last night’s council meeting and several meetings prior, in which the work of our representatives on the East Bay Energy Consortium, appointed by your honorable body, has been incessantly critiqued by members of the public, I have directed our Bristol representatives that they will no longer be attending meetings of the consortium,” Ms. Mederos’ memo stated. “If the council desires to continue Bristol’s involvement, perhaps it is appropriate to appoint members of the council to serve as the delegates. We will endeavor to obtain the information that has been requested by the council. However, Diane will no longer be the messenger.”

While the town may choose not to send representation to consortium meetings, Bristol, as the fiduciary agent for the group, is still responsible for the group’s finances.

“They (the consortium) shouldn’t be spending another cent,” Shaprio said. “They got way ahead of their authorization.”

The consortium was formed by a group of East Bay towns in an effort to build a wind turbine that would provide electricity to the full region. All the towns contributed money to the project.

Councilor Mary Parella defined the group as “a consortium of well intended people.” However, without legislation that creates a quasi-governmental entity, she pointed out, “They don’t exist.”

The prospect of pooling the resources of nine communities to create a wind farm is itself, breaking new ground. Ms. Williamson made no attempt to hide the fact that the consortium was treading on unfamiliar ground.

“Like any new project, it’s in its infancy and there are growing pains,” she said.

She said it was natural for the group to move to the step of measuring the feasibility of the project.

“It gets into a pre-development scenario. We received a subsequent grant to do a more detailed, critical path. Certain things need to happen to get those answers,” Ms. Williamson said.

Ironically, Bristol was the lead municipality in the creation of the consortium. It’s progression, however, seemed to have continued without the council’s full understanding.

“EBEC has grown into something we may or may not want,” said town council Chairman Ken Marshall.

After receiving the memo issued by Ms. Mederos, Mr. Marshall sent an e-mail to those involved.

“I completely concur as chairman and have felt horrible during this endeavor. I actually felt this coming and if I was administrator I would have done the same thing. No one deserves the kind of treatment that these volunteers have incurred. It is a shame that because of a few unwilling individuals not interested in getting educated by the proper people before criticizing, so many have to suffer. However, all should be proud of the fact that much has been accomplished by proving that communities can work together constructively if they choose to. It is easy being a critic or Monday morning quarterback and look as though you are an advocate for the taxpayer by tearing things apart and putting good intentioned people down.”

The Bristol council supported a motion that all East Bay Educational Consortium spending, other than to pay outstanding bills, is to cease. In order to carry weight, however, the majority of the nine community councils would have to agree.

“When the critics start to question people’s integrity and ethics, nothing in this world is worth selling your soul for,” Mr. Marshall said.

If the town no longer wants to be part of the consortium, it would be up to the town council to rescind its support for the initiative it created.

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