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Open meetings complaint filed over wind farm

NARRAGANSETT – The vice chairman of Deepwater Resistance, the political action committee opposed to Deepwater Wind’s Block Island Wind Farm, has filed an Open Meetings Act complaint stemming from the state Coastal Resources Management Council’s Ocean Special Area Management Plan subcommittee’s handling of public comment during a recent hearing.

“At numerous times during the hearing the chair[woman] refused to let me and other members of the public express our opinions or present facts relating to the cost of the project…notwithstanding the fact that cost is certainly one of the factors that CRMC is required, by its enabling legislation, to take into account,” wrote Deepwater Resistance Vice Chairman Gerald McCarthy in a letter to the Office of the Attorney General dated March 3.

He quoted the agency’s website, which states, “[CRMC] is a state agency created by the General Assembly that balances economic considerations with environmental protection.”

The last subcommittee hearing Feb. 27 at the University of Rhode Island Bay Campus was punctuated by heated exchanges between attendees, and between attendees and subcommittee members.

The proposed Deepwater Wind Block Island Wind Farm is a five-turbine, demonstration-scale farm that will use 30-megawatt turnbines. The energy generated will meet the needs of Block Island, and excess energy will be sent to the mainland grid via a transmission cable that will land on Scarborough State Beach. In the first year of the wind farm’s operation, National Grid would purchase the excess energy at a cost of 24.4 cents per kilowatt-hour. Costs would increase by 3.5 percent each subsequent year of the wind farm’s 20 years of operation.

When Narragansett Town Councilman Matthew Mannix and others repeatedly referenced the project’s cost to mainland ratepayers, Chairwoman Anne Maxwell Livingston cut them off, saying the subcommittee cannot take the project’s economics into consideration when it makes a recommendation to the full council.

In his complaint, McCarthy requested the subcommittee refrain from making a recommendation until members of the public, “who were denied the opportunity to present economic data relevant to the project…have our full testimony heard.”

Based on the information McCarthy provided, the subcommittee did not violate the Open Meetings Act, according to Special Assistant Attorney General Lisa A. Pinsonneault. In her response dated March 7, she quoted state law stating, “Nothing contained in this chapter requires any public body to hold an open forum session, to entertain or respond to any topic nor does it prohibit any public body from limiting comment on any topic at such an open forum session.”

“It appears, based upon the facts you alleged, the CRMC refused or otherwise declined to respond to your request to speak on a topic during the CRMC’s regular business session of the meeting,” Pinsonneault wrote.

In a subsequent correspondence, McCarthy wrote the alleged violation occurred during a public hearing and not a “regular business session” of a meeting.

No date has been set for the subcommittee to meet and decide upon a recommendation to the full CRMC.