DENNIS – A ruling by Orleans District Judge Brian R. Merrick brings a commercial shellfish hatchery another step closer to constructing a wind turbine on 39 acres of beachfront property.
In a decision released Monday, Merrick “revoked and reversed” a decision by the Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District Commission to disallow the turbine near Chapin Memorial Beach in Dennis.
Merrick wrote that the regional commission erred when it overturned an earlier decision by the Dennis Historical Commission to issue Aquacultural Research Corp. a certificate of appropriateness for the proposed turbine.
The town committee’s decision “was not unreasonable,” nor did it violate the Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District Act, which has been amended to allow the consideration of solar or wind energy projects in historic zones, Merrick wrote.
“I think it was the correct decision,” Dennis Selectman Wayne Bergeron said. “This could in some respects be a game changer” for wind projects.
The town of Dennis is classified as an intervenor in the lawsuit ARC brought against the regional historic commission and Rosemarie Austin, a Dennis resident and “visual abutter.”
Austin appealed the local committee’s August 2010 approval of the turbine to the regional board, which overturned it the following month.
The historic district, which includes parts of six 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.
Officials at ARC, which supplies shellfish seed to Cape towns as well as to most of the area’s private shellfish farmers, say they need the turbine to supply the company’s considerable energy needs and free up money to improve its infrastructure, including buildings that are approximately 50 years old.
But the Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District Commission and Austin maintain that the turbine – which would be 242 feet from base to blade tip – doesn’t belong in a residential and historic area.
“(We’re) obviously disappointed in the decision,” Leslie-Ann Morse, the attorney for the regional commission, said.
She said it would be up to the commission whether to appeal and called Merrick’s decision “an interesting way of looking at things.”
In his 26-page decision Merrick wrote about the historic industrial use of the coastline, noting that at one point more than 200 windmills in Dennis provided power for salt-work pumps.
“These windmills were not quaintly shingled but consisted only of the wooden open framing with the interior works exposed,” he wrote. “With the many canvas sails, removable roofs, vats and windmill frames the area of the present ARC property resembled nothing so much as a dilapidated shanty town.”
He also wrote that wind turbine projects minimize sea level rises associated with climate change and eliminate the risk of fuel spills.
“It was the right (decision) for the environment,” Wellfleet shellfish farmer Jim O’Connell said.
“I’m glad (ARC) never gave up. They support my family. They also support a very sustainable farming community.”