Falmouth’s special Town Meeting concluded April 10, but not before Town Meeting members approved an amended Article 22 that will let town voters decide the fate of the town’s two wind turbines at the Falmouth Wastewater Treatment Facility.
Passed by a 110-91 vote, the approved warrant article authorizes selectmen to place a ballot question on the May 21 town election ballot pertaining to the wind turbines. Specifically, it will ask voters if they support transferring $100,000 Certified Free Cash to study ways to dismantle Wind 1 and Wind 2 and restore the site, and allow selectmen to pursue the special legislation needed for the town to borrow money to remove an asset like the wind turbines.
If town voters vote affirmatively on the ballot question, selectmen would bring a request for authorization to borrow money to remove the turbines back for a vote at a subsequent Town Meeting – similar to the original warrant article that was rejected by Town Meeting voters on April 9.
The initial article would have immediately authorized the town to seek special legislation to borrow about $8 million to remove the wind turbines – at a total estimated cost of about $14 million, including all expenses and debts. Although the initial warrant article received a 175-72 majority vote, it needed a 2/3 majority vote since it involved the immediate borrowing of money. The amended article on April 10 only needed a simple majority since it does not borrow money at this time.
Similar to the first night of discussion, there was heated debate on April 10.
“What we put forward this evening would allow the voters to vote and see whether or not they wanted to exclude, from proposition 2½, the debt to decommission and remove the wind turbines,” Selectmen Chairman Kevin Murphy said on April 10 before the vote.
“No borrowing would occur unless we get the vote of the voters and then come back to Town Meeting and get the required 2/3 majority vote to borrow money at Town Meeting,” Murphy added. “In this period of time, we could find out what the costs are to dismantle the turbines and take them down and find out if anyone wanted to buy them. We would have the opportunity to have the authorization to go to the Legislature and see if the Legislature were to approve this act and allow the act to move forward. It will come back to Town Meeting. Incidentally, it would never come back to a Town Meeting until and unless, of course, the voters approved this.”
There was considerable discussion about the transfer of $100,000 to study ways to remove the turbines. Some felt it was asking for more money and not needed since the town recently completed a $388,000 study exploring wind turbine options through the Wind Turbine Options Analysis Process (WTOP).
“I feel like I’m in a used car dealership and the salesmen are the selectmen,” said Town Meeting Member Robert Donahue. “They have taken my proposal and went to their manager and come back again. Instead of giving us the same deal, they now say it’s going to cost us $100,000 more.”
“Incidentally, the $100,000 will not be spent unless and until it is passed by voters. The importance of the $100,000 is we need legal assistance and bond counsel to help us move through the special act of the Legislature. If we merely went to the ballot, we would have no funds to do any of these things. We would have to wait until next fall to come back to this body. By merely just going to the ballot, we will sit here in limbo and be kicking the can down the road. We wouldn’t have the opportunity to move forward with anything,” Murphy responded.
There was also considerable discussion about whether the selectmen pursued options other than removal of the turbines, including their potential relocation.
“The Board of Selectmen didn’t just consider one option. The Board of Selectmen has made a recommendation for one option. The Board of Selectmen has been involved with the WTOP process for a long time. The five members of the board read the [WTOP] report very carefully, had an open meeting at the library to hear the report, and received input from as many people who wanted to speak. We considered the options very, very carefully. This is not a decision that we made lightly,” responded Selectman Doug Jones.
“There were 24 [WTOP] meetings over a period of 30 weeks. We had members of the board at those meetings. Even before that, members of the board have looked at this issue for a long period of time. My opinion today was drastically changed by the WTOP and public hearing process,” Murphy added.
Jones then made a motion to amend Article 22 again, to alleviate concerns about the spending of $100,000 without voter approval. “I would like to have the amendment be that the $100,000 not be expended until the town vote supports or passes the ballot question,” he said.
Then Town Meeting members expressed concern about the language of the ballot question and whether voters would be made aware of the expenses to remove the wind turbines on the actual ballot question.
“What the selectmen are considering putting on the ballot is called a debt exclusion. It must conform to state law, and the form of the question is prescribed in the statute. You don’t mention the amount of the money. You simply refer to ‘all the money.’ The amount is never in the question. It only appears in an override,” responded Falmouth Town Counsel Frank Duffy.
Following the discussion, Article 22 was amended to specify that the requested $100,000 free cash would not be expended unless the ballot question is passed affirmatively by the town.
And if voters fail to do so? “This either gets voted up or voted down. If it gets voted down, the selectmen have to get to work to find another solution to this problem,” Murphy said.
Discussion closed after nearly 1½ hours and Article 22 was then passed with the amended language suggested by Jones.