CHARLESTOWN – It wasn’t a long night, but it’s going to be a long hearing.
The long-awaited Zoning Board of Review hearing on Whalerock Renewable Energy’s request for a special use permit to allow it to build two 410-foot-high industrial wind turbines opened Tuesday night before an audience of about 300 in the Charlestown Elementary School cafetorium. After three hours of testimony and legal wrangling over everything from the qualifications of witnesses to allegations of bias against board members, there may be several more long nights in store.
“If anybody thinks it’s going to go just one evening, it’s not,” said Michael Rzewuski, board chairman, in his introduction.
Representatives of Larry LeBlanc, the local developer trying to develop the wind energy project, did not finish their presentation. The board voted to continue the hearing and said it would require at least two more sessions, which will be held on Wednesday, June 5, and Wednesday, June 19, also at Charlestown Elementary School.
Superior Court Associate Justice Kristin E. Rodgers set a June 14 deadline last month in her ruling remanding the case back to the zoning board after she dismissed suits from the Town Council and a group of abutting property owners who were trying to halt the proceeding. Robert Craven, lawyer for the zoning board, and Nicholas Gorham, Whalerock’s lawyer, said they would seek a clarification from Rodgers if the hearing runs past June 14.
The project is proposed for an 82-acre site north of Route 1 between King’s Factory Road and East Quail Run. While Michael Carlino, LeBlanc’s son-in-law and Whalerock project manager, presented much of the company’s case, much of the night was occupied by legal sparring among Gorham, town solicitor Peter Ruggiero, and John Mancini, who was hired by the town as special counsel for the hearing and also represents a group of abutting landowners.
While Gorham questioned the town’s legal standing in the case after Rodgers dismissed its suit, Ruggiero said he would file a motion in Superior Court today asking reconsideration of that ruling because a town-owned lot, Lot 63-1 on Plat 19, a hockey stick-shaped lot on King’s Factory Road near Route 1, borders the Whalerock site.
“The town received notice as a legal abutter,” Ruggiero said.
Gorham suggested the town owned the lot as the result of a tax taking, adding, “They can make that case in court.”
The biggest fireworks of the night arrived at the outset, courtesy of Ronald Areglado, of 2 Partridge Run, lead plaintiff in the neighbors’ suit against Whalerock. Citing parliamentary procedure, he requested that zoning board members Richard Frank and William Meyer recuse themselves.
During a recess of the board’s April 16 meeting, Areglado said, he observed Frank speaking to fellow board member Ronald Crosson and alternate board member Amanda Magee about a packet of information he and his wife, Maureen Areglado, had given to board members.
“He opined positively about the ‘windmills’ and made negative and biased comments about me and/or the information packet all members just received from my wife and me,” Areglado said. “His comments strongly suggest bias and a demonstrated inability to be objective.”
Areglado also cited Meyer’s characterization of LeBlanc as “a friend,” and said Meyer had asked at least three plaintiffs in the neighbors’ case what they wanted to see on the property.
“It was highly inappropriate and unethical for [Meyer] to make these inquiries of plaintiffs regarding this case. In my opinion, his behavior constitutes a serious ethical flaw and should disqualify him from being a part of this hearing,” Areglado said.
Craven agreed that recusal would be appropriate if a bias or conflict was brought forward, and said that the issue could be appealed in Superior Court.
“It is somewhat subjective. It is the person being accused who should make the decision whether he can be fair and impartial,” he said.
Frank and Meyer both declined to recuse themselves.
“I think I would be able to be fair and impartial,” Frank said.
Meyer said he has used a building, formerly a dance hall, owned by LeBlanc on West Beach Road, to stage Super Bowl parties, but didn’t feel it would affect his ability to remain impartial.
“Yes, Larry LeBlanc is a friend of mine, but I don’t socialize with him,” said Meyer, adding he learned of Areglado’s request shortly before the meeting.
“That was bad. I don’t appreciate that,” Meyer said.
Areglado did give Meyer credit for noting for the record that the turbine site was 95 feet above sea level, a fact he felt buttressed the argument against the turbines.
“It’ll be higher than anything in Rhode Island,” said Areglado, arguing that the turbines will rise more than 500 feet into the air, compared to the recently constructed 364-foot turbine in North Kingstown at nearly sea level.
Carlino, site engineer Eric Prive and environmental engineer Daniel Mendelsohn presented the arguments in favor of the turbines,
Mendelsohn said “shadow flicker,” the movement of the shadows created by the blades, didn’t travel far beyond the property, and suggested that shutting down the turbines briefly just after sunrise and just before sunset on the year’s shortest and longest days would keep shadow flicker on Route 1 below 30 hours per year, considered an environmentally safe standard.
However, when Crosson asked if he could guarantee there would be no effect on the community, Mendelsohn responded, “I can’t guarantee you anything.”
While the hearing had not reached the juncture where the board would allow questions from the floor, Rzewuski said residents who had questions for any parties in the hearing could send them to Town Hall.
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