Skeptical town meeting members Wednesday night narrowly approved a measure that provides $100,000 for selectmen to evaluate proposals for the dismantling of two town-owned turbines, but only if voters OK the deconstruction first.
The motion, which selectmen approved while convening before town meeting Tuesday night, provides funds for the board to research the actual cost of removing the turbines and receive counsel on seeking special legislation to borrow money to take the turbines down. The measure passed by a majority with 110 in favor and 91 against.
Before town meeting on Wednesday, Selectman David Braga said his board also plans on placing the question of whether the turbines should be removed on Falmouth’s May 21 election ballot. It is not clear if the ballot question will be binding.
The money – to be taken from the town’s free cash account – only may be used if voters next month favor the removal of the two 1.65-megawatt turbines at the wastewater treatment facility on Blacksmith Shop Road.
“Just give us the opportunity,” said Selectman Kevin Murphy, board chairman.
On Tuesday night, town meeting defeated the selectmen-sponsored initiative to authorize spending nearly $14 million – with $8.2 million of it borrowed – to remove the Wind 1 and Wind 2 turbines. That article failed to reach a two-thirds majority, with 125 people voting in favor and 72 against.
Murphy’s motion was the first of the night and sparked about 1½ hours of debate during which many town meeting members said they felt selectmen were trying to force the representative body into going along with the selectmen’s turbine removal initiative.
Town meeting members were handed the motion’s language on pieces of light purple paper as they walked into the Lawrence School auditorium Wednesday night. Precinct 6 town meeting member Daniel Shearer said town meeting was not given enough time to review the measure.
“I hope everybody looks out for that train, because we’re getting railroaded,” Shearer said. “We’re getting pushed around. We’re getting something we don’t understand.”
Precinct 3 town meeting member Robert Donahue took it a step further, accusing selectmen of being “pigheaded” in asking for funding related to removing the turbines after town meeting already voted against funding turbine removal.
“I feel like I’m in a used car dealership,” Donahue said. “I’d like to ask … how many more motions do you have for us guys?”
As town meeting members spoke, turbine abutters Neil Andersen and Colin Murphy sat in the back of the auditorium, quietly heckling speakers at times.
When Precinct 1 town meeting member Ronald Zweig said the decibel level in the auditorium with no one speaking was higher than the decibel level the turbines create, Colin Murphy began repeating “whoosh, whoosh,” imitating the sound he says the turbines make.
Selectman Douglas Jones introduced the amendment to the motion that ensured selectmen could not spend money pursuing proposals or legislation to remove the turbines without voter approval. The amendment passed.
The responsible action for town meeting would be to allow selectmen to better research the actual cost of removing the turbines, Precinct 6 town meeting member Julia Taylor argued after many people suggested the selectmen’s motion was political.
“I’m sure the selectmen see no political advantage in suggesting we spend $14 million to take down the turbines,” Taylor said. “We town meeting members have to take our responsibility very seriously.”
Town meeting members also passed an article that provides $140,000 to supplement the fiscal 2013 and 2014 operating budget necessitated by curtailment or shutdown of the turbines.