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Whalerock hearings head to Round 3

CHARLESTOWN – The school year may be winding down, but the action is far from over for the summer at Charlestown Elementary School, thanks to the contentious Whalerock hearings.

The third round in local developer Larry LeBlanc’s effort to win a special use permit from the town Zoning Board of Review that would allow his company, Whalerock Renewable Energy LLC, to build two 272-foot-tall industrial turbines, whose blades would bring the total height to 410 feet, on 81 acres of land north of Route 1, will commence Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the school.

With the vast majority of the nearly 300 spectators who’ve packed the school’s gym overwhelmingly opposed to the turbines, the previous two sessions, on May 21 and June 5, have been marked by spirited skirmishing among the three legal principals in the drama: Nicholas Gorham, representing Whalerock; and his two opponents, Peter Ruggiero, town solicitor, and John Mancini, hired in May by the Town Council as a special counsel for the proceedings. Mancini also represents a number of abutters, along King’s Factory Road and surrounding areas to the east and East Quail Run to the west, who have battled the proposed turbines for three years.

The lawyers are also battling in Washington County Superior Court, where they appeared before Associate Justice Kristin E. Rodgers on June 7 to argue Charlestown’s legal standing in the case. Ruggiero and Mancini are claiming they have the right to witnesses, based on the town’s ownership of a lot taken for unpaid taxes on King’s Factory Road. Gorham believes the town lacks legal standing to present a case, based on Rodgers’ April decision to dismiss suits filed by the town and abutters against the zoning board that would’ve blocked the current hearing.

Rodgers is expected to issue a written decision on the case shortly.

LeBlanc, if victorious before the zoning board, is hoping to start construction shortly afterward, pending state regulatory approval. Under town ordinance, he must receive four of the board’s five votes to be granted the special use permit.

Gorham plans to present Whalerock’s last two witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing, experts on real estate and infrasound, the low-frequency sound emanating from large structures such as wind turbines. The town will then present its case, if permitted by Rodgers’ decision, and finally, the public will be given its chance to comment.

With the board enforcing a 10 p.m. curfew, the proceeding is likely to require a fourth session, and possible more. Michael Rzewuski, board chairman, said additional sessions, if necessary, will be scheduled Wednesday night.

Thus far, Gorham has presented witness testimony from Michael Carlino, project manager; Eric Prive, site engineer; Daniel Mendelsohn, environmental engineer; and Christopher Menge, community noise analyst. At the June 5 hearing, the lawyers agreed to hear testimony from Stephen Ambrose, a Maine-based noise engineer and analyst who disputed Menge’s contention that the turbines would not greatly increase the noise level in the area surrounding the turbine site.

At the outset of the hearing, Ronald Areglado, one of the abutters who had unsuccessfully sued the board, requested that members Richard Frank and William Meyer recuse themselves from the hearing, claiming their friendships with LeBlanc left them unable to render a fair decision in the case. They both acknowledged ties with the developer, but contended they would still be able to act in a fair and impartial manner, and intend to cast votes on the permit request.