FALMOUTH – Wind turbines dominated discussion during the second night of Falmouth town meeting Wednesday, even though the two articles that were debated and ultimately defeated had no power to force changes in their operation.
East Falmouth resident Kathleen Driscoll presented two articles: Article 26, to create a mitigation fund to assist residents who claim they’ve been negatively affected by the turbines’ operation; and Article 27, to run the turbines 24 hours a day. Both of those matters had been considered and ultimately rejected by the Board of Selectmen, and the board’s chairman, Brent Putnam, recommended voters indefinitely shelve the matters.
“We are currently involved in complex and sensitive matters related to the operation of these turbines,” he said. “There could be significant legal ramifications to the town and its taxpayers. I’m appealing to you “» for your patience.”
Among the matters Putnam referred to is a lawsuit in Barnstable Superior Court regarding a 2012 Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals ruling that declared the turbines a nuisance. The town filed a lawsuit to appeal that decision. Last week, the town and residents reached an agreement to limit the turbines’ operation to 12 hours a day, down from the current 16-hour operation, while the suit progresses.
But Putnam cast a shadow on that agreement while speaking to town meeting members. “Contrary to what’s been published, the selectmen have not voted to change the operating hours,” he said. He offered no clarity during town meeting to that statement.
The two 1.65-megawatt turbines have been the source of anger in the neighborhoods surrounding the wastewater treatment plant virtually since their installation. Some neighbors have complained about ill effects caused by their operation, while the town and other residents say they are a needed source of low-emission energy. The town also had planned to make money off their operation by selling green energy credits to power companies.
Debate on the articles took up more than an hour of the night. North Falmouth resident Austin Heath was one of several residents who urged the voters to defeat Article 26.
“I think it’s inappropriate for us to take any action or even a vote,” he said. “There comes a time where the people we elect to do a job, we have to let them do it. We can’t all be in on settlement agreements, we can’t all go down to the courthouse and demand time. Anything we say here is advisory, and that’s about it.”
Selectmen met in executive session before Wednesday’s town meeting began; the town, the ZBA and the families involved in the suit are due in court next week for a status hearing.
Wednesday’s meeting was still ongoing at press time, and it was unclear if it would stretch into a third night.
Late Tuesday night, town meeting approved Article 16, a $3 million capital plan that included nearly three dozen items. The most expensive ones on the list included $400,000 for road maintenance, construction and sidewalks; $300,000 for a new ambulance; $250,000 for a new police radio system; and $250,000 for municipal space improvements.
Falmouth Director of Finance Jennifer Petit said the town has been delaying capital improvements for several years due to insufficient funds, and that the items in this year’s warrant represent Falmouth’s most pressing needs. More than $6.2 million was requested by town departments before the list was winnowed headed to town meeting; similar amounts are requested in each of the next two fiscal years, according to information supplied by the town in the warrant book.
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