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Wind turbine pits past against future in Cape May

CAPE MAY – A local educator says the past is prevailing over the future in America’s oldest seaside resort, as the city’s Historic Preservation Commission voted down a proposal to install a wind turbine at the Cape May Elementary School.

In April, the Historic Preservation Commission debated the merits of installing a small wind turbine at the Cape May Elementary School to minimally cut power costs while providing students’ opportunities to study sustainable energy. Ultimately, the HPC recommended against the turbine project, citing concerns over the city’s “viewscape.”

According to April minutes, members of the commissions “felt that it would be an expensive science project and the amount of money saved is miniscule” and disagreed with the introduction of the wind turbine in the historic district.

But at a June council meeting, educator and community activist Charlotte Todd asked council to help the turbine project move forward as an educational endeavor.

“I think, as an educator, if you limit the students’ ability to achieve you are actually impeding their academic freedom,” said Todd. “I think we are purposely censoring opportunities for children to grow. Does this predict a slippery slope for future academic values?”

Todd presented council members with her research on the use of wind turbines in STEM – or science, technology and math program through the United States.

“Of the 332 schools with these types of projects, at least 12 are located in designated historic landmark cites,” she said.

She argued that the educational benefits of such programs more than offset any concerns over the integrity of “viewscape” in historic districts.

“If these programs are compatible in historic cities such as Boston and Salem, Massachusetts, Philadephia, New York City and Key West, they can certainly be considered here,” she said.

She asked council to “continue to take a broad look at the city and its needs in more than one way.”

Her remarks drew no comment from council members.

According to city manager Bruce MacLeod, the small wind turbine installation at the school would save about $500 annually. The $21,000 installation would be funded by a $10,000 grant from WalMart for sustainable city programs and an $11,000 bequest designated to honor the donor’s parents, who were educators.

The site for the proposed turbine would be at the parking lot of the Cape May Elementary School on Lafayette Street. Prepared reports indicated that the wind turbine would have no negative environmental impact and was consistent with the city’s “Conservation Elements” of the 2009 Master Plan.

The turbine would be 45 feet in height, with a wing span of 12 feet. An eight-by-four foot foundation would anchor the project and contain the conduits for power.

The school has prepared lesson plans on sustainable energy, which include social studies, math and science components.

No further action was scheduled after Todd’s public comments.