Nearly two years ago, the town of Fairhaven was criticized for being unresponsive to citizens, advocacy groups and the media regarding the construction of two industrial turbines on Arsene Street.
The gulf of distrust has at times seemed to narrow since then, but there is evidence that the town’s fear of losing control of the narrative has outweighed the desire to keep the public informed all along.
Since the state Department of Environmental Protection found a number of instances where the turbines did not comply with noise limits, it has become necessary for the town and the turbines’ operators to remedy the problem.
The committee working to settle on an acceptable mitigation plan has not allowed public access, nor has it allowed a member of the Fairhaven WindWise organization to participate in the process. Those who allege unhealthy impacts of the turbines must rely only on reports made during Board of Health meetings. They are justifiably skeptical of those reports, since the Board of Health member who would make those reports has not been considered overly sympathetic to their concerns throughout the process. (To be fair, it seems unlikely that any current member of the board would be trusted as impartial by those on both sides of the issue.)
Furthermore, The Standard-Times’ requests to review the mitigation plan has been officially rebuffed throughout the process, the document finally coming into our hands as the result of a Public Records Request made to the Board of Health.
The steering committee working with the mitigation plan comprises a member of the Board of Health, a member of the Board of Selectmen, the town’s executive secretary, and representatives from the developer, the DEP and the state Clean Energy Center.
The composition of the committee frees them from adhering to the Open Meeting Law, since no quorum of public bodies is present, so the only access to the public is through reports back to the Board of Health or Board of Selectmen.
Of course, the selectmen have shrewdly claimed that the issue meets the criteria for executive session because it entails “contract negotiations,” which usually refers to employment contracts with unionized or managerial town workers. This claim seems a stretch.
The Board of Health, on the other hand, deals with the issue in the realm of public health, and so relented to the Public Records Request.
It shouldn’t be like pulling hens’ teeth in these most important matters of public interest: the neighbors who claim to be affected by the turbines’ operation; the taxpayers whose pocketbooks are affected by the number of megawatts produced; and the relationship between the public and town leaders left raw.
Delicate as this commercial relationship between the town and the operator may be, the lesson should have been learned months ago that transparency and communication will serve all parties best.
The committee should open its doors a little wider. Maybe the public doesn’t need to see the whole process of how this sausage is made, but they have a right to know what’s going on before it’s served to them.
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