PLYMOUTH – Give round one to the critics of the town’s existing wind turbine regulations.
Though they fell just short of passing a two-year moratorium on commercial wind turbines at the recently concluded fall Town Meeting, to use a Vietnam-era phrase, they still managed to win the hearts and minds of key officials.
As he left Town Meeting last month, Selectmen Chairman Matt Muratore made it clear that – moratorium or no moratorium – revising the turbine regulations to give more consideration to the concerns of residents would be a priority for the town.
So, it was not a surprise when at the first meeting of the selectmen since Town Meeting, Director of Planning and Development Lee Hartmann addressed that issue. Hartmann didn’t just review the process to date, he made a strong argument for enlarging the Energy Committee for the express purpose of revising those regulations.
Hartmann acknowledged that there are already, what he called, “a fair number of pro-alternative energy people” on the committee and boldly suggested that the town purposefully seek out representatives of the anti-turbine perspective to balance the committee’s efforts.
Specifically, Hartmann believes that two critics of the existing wind turbine bylaws should be added to the committee, bringing them to a total of 11 members, with the expectation that the full committee would be able to offer a revised bylaw in time for next year’s fall Town Meeting.
Will that ensure that the critics of the existing bylaws will have the upper hand? Not necessarily.
After a discussion of alternate approaches, Selectman Belinda Brewster asked Hartmann a key question.
“Lee,” Brewster said, “do you think you are going to be able to resolve these issues?”
No, Hartmann said bluntly.
Hartmann said he expects that when the dust clears and a new regulation has been written, each side will have something they don’t like about the final regulations.
“If they come back,” after a year or so, Hartmann said, “and everyone is miserable, I’ve done my job.”
“It is a very complex issue,” Hartmann added, “and I don’t think we will get to the point where the committee is satisfied. But I do think we will get a majority decision that they can live with.”
Of course, a lot depends on who those two new committee members are.
Two selectmen expressed concern about the idea of purposefully adding members to the Energy Committee based on their pre-set perspective on the issue.
“Lee, when you expand the committee from 9 to 11 members,” Selectman John Mahoney asked Hartmann, “how do you advertise those positions? Are we looking for concerned citizens? And how do you attract the concerned citizens and not others?”
Hartmann acknowledged that the process will likely entail a kind of recruitment of certain individuals.
Selectman Ken Tavares was still concerned that the board may be setting a bad precedent.
“You make sense with your overall recommendations,” Tavares told Hartmann, “but if we go along with one part we have to go along with something we don’t normally do.”
Tavares was speaking of the idea of recruiting committee members based on their opinions, not because they are generally well suited to the duties of the committee.
If the town uses that approach, Tavares said, it should also make it clear that these are not long-term appointments.
“I see these appointments lasting for a specific period, for a short period of time,” Tavares said. “This is all about (wind turbine) location and distance, how far away they should be sited from someone’s house. That’s it in a nutshell.”
Can it be that simple?
Will it be that simple?
Energy Officer Patrick Farah suggested that a subcommittee of the existing Energy Committee has already done much of the work.
“We have already made some inroads, have come up with some revised language,” Farah said, arguing that the sooner the committee finishes work on the turbine issue, the sooner it could refocus on other pressing issues.
“There is a lot on the committee’s plate right now,” Farah noted.
“The more we talk about this, the less I like it,” Tavares said, “so I am going to make a motion that we increase the committee by two people, that their terms expire on Dec.13, 2013, and to encourage them to be ready to come to spring Town Meeting.”
Though Hartmann said that, with the warrant for that meeting already open and the expectation that warrant articles be ready by February, the committee would only have three months, Tavares insisted they at least give it a try.
“Keep their feet to the fire, put them on a shorter leash,” Tavares said.
The board them voted unanimously on Tavares motion.
Give round two to town officials.
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