ORLEANS – A shellfish hatchery’s effort to build a wind turbine near Chapin Memorial Beach in Dennis was back in Orleans District Court on Monday, with the company’s vice president and co-owner arguing that the turbine would be a “financial security blanket” in the face of rising energy costs.
Aquacultural Research Corp. contends in its lawsuit that the Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District Commission had no grounds for overturning an August 2010 decision by the Dennis Historical Commission to allow the 242-foot turbine.
The historic district, which includes parts of several towns on the Cape’s north side, stretches in Dennis from Route 6 to Cape Cod Bay. Although each member town has its own committee, the regional board has the power to overrule on appeal.
In the case of the ARC turbine, Rosemarie Austin of Dennis appealed and the regional board ruled the town board had exercised “poor judgment” in allowing the 600-kilowatt turbine.
ARC supplies shellfish seed to Cape towns as well as to most of the area’s private shellfish farmers. The company’s legal battle to erect the turbine has followed a long road.
A year ago, ARC and the defendants were arguing points of a lawsuit in front of Orleans District Court Judge Brian Merrick. But in February, ARC President Richard Kraus told Dennis selectmen his company was dropping the suit because it was too expensive and time-consuming.
By April, though, the suit was on again – and it appears the gloves are off.
On Monday, attorneys for ARC and the regional commission carted box after box of documents and spreadsheets into the hearing room where Merrick presided.
“They have a ton of witnesses,” said Austin, now a co-defendant, who is representing herself.
Both the plaintiff and the defendants say the trial could last at least into next week.
In addition to her testimony about the turbine providing financial security, Gail Hart, ARC vice president and co-owner, said kilowatt-hours went from 10 cents to nearly 20 cents between 2002 and 2009. That forced the shellfish hatchery to postpone major renovations and trim two winter months off the spawning season, she said.
Having a turbine to supply energy costs would allow ARC to take out a loan to repair the hatchery at an estimated cost of $525,000 and repair a seawall for about $470,000, Hart said.
The company has not had a sufficient bottom-line income to devote money to repairs or to guarantee payment on a loan, she said.
Attorney Leslie-Ann Morse, representing the historical commission, questioned Hart about ARC’s stewardship of the 39-acre property and its various structures.
Hart admitted in response to questioning that ARC had never conducted an energy audit of its structures.
“It is fair to say the ARC building simply leaks heat in the winter?” Morse asked. She also questioned when the ARC structures were last painted.
Hart agreed that the building is not energy efficient, but said the part of it requiring higher temperatures is in better shape.
Thomas Michaelman of Acton, a principal of Boreal Renewable Energy Development, which consults on turbines, also testified in court Monday.
The turbine would be located on the site of the old greenhouse and would produce 1.5 million kilowatt-hours in a year – enough for ARC to sell surplus energy credits to NStar, Michaelman said.
“It’s a very windy site,” he said. The nearest residential property is 3,200 feet away, and shadow flicker from the turbine will not be a problem, Michaelman said.
Shellfish farmers and members of Save Our Beaches, an organization opposed to the turbine, watched the proceedings.
Judy Watts of Dennis said a seaside setting in a designated historical district is not the appropriate site for such a large wind turbine.
“It can be off-site,” she said.
“I make my living through ARC and their seed,” shellfish farmer Jim O’Connell of Wellfleet said. “I think they’re hardworking people.”
The case continues today.
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