Members of a group opposing Fairhaven’s two wind turbines are concerned that some members of the public will be shut out of a Feb. 12 hearing on a turbine bylaw, which will be held in a room they say is too small.
The Planning Board intends to hold the hearing in the banquet room in Town Hall, where the Planning Board and Board of Selectmen regularly meet.
That room has a 43-person capacity and, per a list of 14 “procedural rules” passed by the board last week, a police officer will be stationed inside the room throughout the three-hour-long hearing in order to remove anyone who is disruptive and to ensure the room does not become overcrowded.
“There is a lot of interest in this,” WindWise member Ken Pottel said. “Obviously, there are some strong opinions on this and it’s important to be heard. If they are going to do this, they have to do it right.”
Pottel said he was not sure how many people from his organization would attend but said he hoped the board would consider moving the hearing to the auditorium on the second floor of Town Hall.
Planning Board Chairman Wayne Hayward said he did not think the auditorium was “created for public forums.”
“It’s fine if you are going to be on stage and singing and dancing but I don’t envision any of that,” he said. “The banquet room is where we hold our meetings.”
Director of Planning and Economic Development William Roth said he was concerned that the upstairs auditorium has no sound system and is not equipped to be videotaped by the public access channel.
“If there really are way more people than can be accommodated, then the Planning Board will have to make a judgment call,” he said.
Planning Board member Francis Budryk said he did not think the room’s size would be an issue because “Aside from the WindWise group, there seems to be a lot of apathy about this.”
He added that the Planning Board’s rules were meant to keep the meeting running and ensure it will not be shut down, as happened to a Jan. 7 Board of Health meeting when 35 members of WindWise tried to attend a meeting in the board’s small office.
“At that Health Board meeting, too many people came, and we don’t want things to turn into a mess,” Budryk said.
But Roth made a distinction between the banquet room and the Board of Health’s office where the disbanded meeting was held on Jan. 7.
“That office is basically a closet,” he said. “We haven’t ever had a problem using the banquet room.”
In addition to the occupancy limits, those present at the meeting will have to sign up to speak ahead of time and will be limited to five minutes.
Pottel said he did think the hearing was a step in the right direction because WindWise has been advocating for an open forum for those who have suffered health effects from the turbines to testify.
“You have to have citizens feel that they have a voice,” he said. “The problem is going to be if they can’t even get in the room.”
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