NEW SHOREHAM – The arguments that were made during the most recent hearing on the Deepwater Wind project came down to a deep and perhaps irreconcilable divide between two island philosophies.
Is the construction of five wind turbines three miles off the coast of Block Island a breach of the long-held tradition of conservation and preservation of the island’s natural beauty?
Or is the turbine project a lifeline to the very future of the island’s economic viability and stability?
Both views were heard by members of the Ocean Special Area Management Plan subcommittee of the state Coastal Resources Management Council Monday at the Block Island School.
The former was perhaps most eloquently positioned by David Lewis, who said his family has had a presence on the island since 1817.
“One of the irreplaceable features of many outward looking seascapes is that when one looks, one sees something that predates history, one sees an expansive view to an open horizon that has looked the same for longer than man can contemplate,” Lewis said in prepared remarks. “Only the arrogance of man allows him to choose a point in time to say, ‘Here and now, I have the right to permanently alter the way something has always been into something else of my choosing.’ ”
On the other side was Norris Pike, a descendent of an original family of settlers from 1661, who said he was “110 percent behind Deepwater Wind.” As to why, Pike said, “This is a step in the right direction. We need to take this step. We don’t have the right to squander our children’s future and that’s what we’re going to do if you turn this project down. The windmills are the key to our future.”
This was the tone during the almost three-and-a-half hour meeting. Respectful, thoughtful, measured. Out of the 160 or so attendees (the cafeteria was standing room only), 32 people spoke: 18 in favor, 12 against and two who could be characterized as neutral.
The SAMP subcommittee’s legal counsel, John T. Longo, explained to the crowd that the committee had a restricted purview when considering the Deepwater Wind project, which came down to three guidelines: 1) to ensure that the turbine project did not conflict with any resource management plan or program that has been enacted by the CRMC; 2) that it did not cause any significant damage to any activity adopted by the CRMC; and 3) that there was no significant damage to the state’s coastal region. Longo said electric rates and financial issues were not considered by the CRMC.
In any orderly fashion, residents rose to make an individual plea.
Islander Sean McGarry said the project would be a “catastrophe for Block Island.” Jules Craynock, who said he was a retired oceanographer, said “I live in a large house up on a hill where I can see the project, and I welcome the sight.”
The CRMC has a final hearing on Deepwater Wind today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Coastal Institute Auditorium, University of Rhode Island Bay campus, South Ferry Road, Narragansett. After that hearing, the SAMP subcommittee will schedule a workshop to vote, and the matter will then be forwarded to the full CRMC. Those meetings have not yet been scheduled.
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