Falmouth Town Meeting voters refuse to fund removal of wind turbines; Selectmen plan to make alternative motion on April 10
Falmouth Town Meeting voters, on April 9, failed to pass a proposed warrant article authorizing the town to seek special legislation to borrow about $8 million to remove the two wind turbines at the Falmouth Wastewater Treatment Facility. In total, Article 22 states it would cost the town an estimated $14 million to remove both Wind 1 and Wind 2 – including all expenses and debts.
Although it passed by a simple majority, Article 22 failed to yield the 2/3 majority needed for a vote on borrowing money. Selectmen plan to present an amended warrant article when special Town Meeting resumes at 7 p.m. April 10 at the Lawrence School auditorium.
The selectmen’s expected motion on April 10 will seek a majority vote to transfer $100,000 from Certified Free Cash for expenses necessary to seek and evaluate proposals to dismantle Wind 1 and Wind 2 and restore the site.
It also would place a ballot referendum on the May 21 town election asking voters if they would support the selectmen’s intention to seek special legislation authorizing them to borrow money to remove the turbines – similar to the same warrant article that was rejected on April 9.
If voters passed the ballot referendum, selectmen would likely bring back a request for special legislation and authorization to borrow at a future Town Meeting.
The majority of speakers on April 9 supported Article 22, which also received unanimous support from both the Falmouth Board of Selectmen and the Falmouth Finance Committee prior to the start of special Town Meeting.
“I would like to address how we came to this decision. Some folks believe we were bullied into this decision. I can reassure you I have never been bullied in my life, including in this situation. This was a very thoughtful process. The people we thought of were the town of Falmouth as a whole, said Selectmen Chairman Kevin Murphy on April 9.
“Over the last two years, we have worked diligently to try to find a middle ground to please everybody. In this particular case, that was unattainable,” he added. “The state is hell-bent in not having a failure with regard to wind energy. There is nothing wrong with clean energy in this state, but this particular project in this particular place is wrong.”
Murphy was referring to the fact that the state has refused to offer any financial assistance or debt relief to the town if it removes the wind turbines – and will require Falmouth to pay back stimulus money used to erect Wind 2, with interest.
Falmouth Selectman Doug Jones said it would also cost Falmouth about $7-$8 million in lost revenue over the estimated 18-year life of the wind turbines. Over the 18 years, he said this would come out to about $800 in taxes for a person owning a home worth about $470,000.
“It’s not good public policy to spend $14 million to lose another $8 million,” responded Town Meeting Member Richard Latimer on April 9. He and other Article 22 opponents said the money would be better spent on the town’s other needs – such as more money for the police, fire and school departments.
While Town Meeting Member Marc Finneran said, “This pits money against people’s welfare, and I always come down on the side of people’s welfare.”
Town Meeting Member Kathryn Elder urged people to support Article 22 before it failed to generate the needed majority.
“The [energy] project was presented as having no impact on the neighborhoods and as bringing income and renewable energy to the town. Now, we’re being told that we must have turbines at all costs and at any risk,” she said. “I support the selectmen who have acted decisively to unite a divided community.”
Elder said hers is one of 41 families that have come forward to testify about the negative health effects resulting from the wind turbines. “The selectmen decided to repair a community that was torn apart … and to protect the health and welfare of all people in their community,” she added.
Selectmen Vice Chairman Brent Putnam said there are 812 homes within one mile of the wind turbines, with an assessed value of more than $407 million – so selectmen did not see it as a viable option to purchase homes by eminent domain. He also said the Planning Board presented a new wind turbine bylaw, passed by Town Meeting voters on April 8, that now limits the size of turbines to a size considerably smaller than the industrial-sized turbines now erected at the treatment facility.
Murphy echoed those sentiments earlier.
“In this community, we have never done an unfriendly eminent domain taking, and that includes when we put Route 28 coming into this community. We are not that type of community. We don’t take people’s property just because it’s good for other people here,” Murphy said.
“We don’t need to pit neighbor vs. neighbor. This goes to the soul of this community. What does it profit a man if he gains the world and loses his soul? Do we want to lose the soul of this community? Voters will ultimately make the final decision and should be given the opportunity. I want to remind you that what goes around, comes around,” he added. “This town is resolute in regard to these wind turbines, and these voters need to be resolute to show the state that we want to move forward.”
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