Deepwater Wind, the developer of the renewable offshore wind project proposed for Block Island Sound received news of yet another stumbling block as the Narragansett Town Council voted to suspend negotiations with the company until June.
Motion passed in spirit of compromise.
Tabled from March, the motion to suspend put forth by council member Matthew Mannix, called for a halt to all talks and negotiations with the developer. According to James Callaghan, council president, the council has not participated in any discussions with Deepwater Wind since taking office in November and has conducted no closed door discussions with the developers.
Mannix originally brought the motion in order to curtail momentum on the proposed project and address taxpayer concerns. Monday’s meeting drew more than 150 residents, union leaders, environmentalists and politicos to the hearing in Narragansett with more than thirty people voicing their opinions on the renewable energy project.
The council tasked with determining whether the Deepwater Wind proposed mainland access point, coming ashore at Narragansett Town Beach, is a viable option for the town, was split on the Mannix motion.
Three council members upon opening the meeting, called for commencement of talks with Deepwater Wind as a means of making progress and obtaining much needed information regarding the company’s intentions. Susan Cicilline-Buananno, Doug McLaughlin and Callaghan expressed their wishes to commence talks with Deepwater Wind.
“Going through this process, we’ll probably talk for months. It will be months before we come up with any final proposal,” said McLaughlin. “There will be plenty of discussion along the way and certainly a lot of town input and citizen input long before a decision or vote is taken by the town council. I think that is where we need to go. [We] need to continue the dialogue. Stop the talking and we’re not going anywhere. That’s ridiculous.”
Councilwoman Cicilline-Buananno recommended a compromise in amending the motion to extend for a month to June 6 instead of Mannix original request of July.
“I think that you can gather the information all along the way,” Buannono said, to Mannix. “I applaud you for wanting to gather information, but I feel like we’ve had some more talks and I’d like to at least know what we’re talking about in a discussion format. I can support our coming together to have those conversations.”
After a marathon session, heated testimony and exchange the council voted 5-0 to suspend negotiations with Deepwater Wind until June.
“I feel the vote was a fair and accurate reflection of what the public expressed,” said Callaghan. ”There is a need for more information. I want to look into the wind auctions and the previous PUC decision. I’d like to get some information from Deepwater.”
Deepwater reacts in a surprise move.
In a surprise move and in response to repeated calls from Narragansett residents for a more aesthetic path through town, Deepwater Wind CEO, Jeffrey Grybowski made the following statement late yesterday afternoon.
“We’ve listened closely to the feedback from Narragansett residents and town officials, and we heard loud and clear that an underground route is the preferred option for the Block Island Wind Farm transmission system,” he said. “We’ll propose that option to the Narragansett Town Council next month, and we’ll look forward to continuing the dialogue on this important project.”
“The Deepwater decision to bury the lines is news to me,” said Callaghan early Tuesday evening. “I’m happy to hear that they are considering it. However, that is just one issue in an entire host of issues to be explored regarding the project.”
Politicos weighed in.
Former attorney general James O’Neill urged the three council members to join Mannix and Hagopian in the motion to suspend as a show of commitment to transparency in government.
O’Neill is a Narragansett resident and also owns property on Block Island.
“I implore you to join your colleagues [in] suspending negotiations with Deepwater at this juncture,” O’Neill said. “I think what we’ve seen here tonight is that there is a thirst for knowledge, a thirst for transparency in government, and here’s an opportunity for you to join your colleagues and demonstrate for this town that you are committed to transparency in government.”
Newly seated council in awkward position.
“There’s no question that you’ve been put in somewhat of an awkward position, but you haven’t put yourself in that position. Deepwater has put you in that position. Deepwater comes in here like gangbusters and wants to ram through a proposal that’s got ramifications upon this town and upon this state that will go on for 20 years at the bare minimum. Don’t let them fast track you.”
“Michael Sabotoni, a man I have great respect for and who has been a labor leader for years. I enjoyed their support when I sought public office and I respect the laborers in our communities. He talked about what’s good for the state as a whole,” O’Neill said. “It’s what’s good for labor as a whole. It does not make any sense to allow laborers- working people of our communities throughout the thirty-nine cities and towns of our state to have their utility rates increase 350 percent. And to allow the profits of that venture to be passed on to mega millionaires sitting on wall street in the form of $16 million.”
Former Representative Laurence Ehrhardt (North Kingstown) spoke in opposition to the project. Ehrhardt who sat on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee was familiarized the crowd with the origins of Deepwater Wind.
“This was carried out by the exactly same people, in exactly the same months, May and June of 2010, by exactly the same team that brought you 38 Studios,” said Ehrhardt. “That’s not exactly a great recommendation for analysis.”
“The first time the project was put before the public utilities commission, and it exercised its statutory rule to review the merits of the project they issued a scathing denial of the project,” he said.”That was the last time that any public body has reviewed this project on its merits.”
The fishing industry was represented,
Joel Hovanesian, a commercial fisherman out of Point Judith spoke regarding Deepwater’s possible effects on the local fishing industry. Hovanesian warned Deepwater representatives that there was a need for people to feed themselves and the threat of commercial offshore industrialization was a threat to the ability to do so.
“Two years ago, I made the decision to get out of the commercial fishing industry,” said Hoverdasian. “The Federal government made my life unbearable. I said enough is enough.Now I am back in but on a smaller scale.”
Hoverdasian has returned to fishing although he is now fishing locally instead of offshore. He expressed his frustration with the thought of a sell-out to a corporation with lots of money to spread.
“I am not for sale – for any amount of money,” he said.
Tina Jackson, supporting the commercial fishing industry expressed concern that adequate studies had not been conducted for 659 foot turbines, with the information available for study based on 450 foot turbines.
“You are reviewing a project that is no longer in existence,” Jackson said.
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