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Shelburne OKs ‘small’ wind law

SHELBURNE – Two years after banning “large-scale” commercial wind farms and putting on-hold any building of small on-premise turbines, Tuesday’s town meeting voters approved what Planning Board Chairman Matt Marchese called an “onerous” small scale wind bylaw.

They also approved a community rights resolution, motivated by concerns that landowners might be “steam-rollered” by the federal government to let the Kinder Morgan/Tennessee Gas Co. pipeline be buried beneath their farmland.

Additionally, Shelburne defeated Mohawk’s request to borrow up to $542,778 for capital improvement projects at the high school, with a vote of 37 “yes” votes to 49 “no.” Because Mohawk needed approval by all eight member towns, the project is effectively dead, for at least this town meeting season, because Colrain and Shelburne have both nixed the plan.

The wind bylaw was the last item to be dealt with at the meeting, which ended at about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. Marchese told residents the bylaw was developed over the last three years, was unanimously supported by both the Planning Board and its Wind Advisory Committee. “It’s not perfect, but it’s darned close, for the town of Shelburne right now,” he said. “If technology gets better, the town might want to come back two or three years from now to modify it.”

He also called it an onerous bylaw, because it is so restrictive. The new Premises-Use Wind Energy System Bylaw allows systems producing up to 30 kilowatts of electricity to be built through a special permit process through the Zoning Board of Appeals. The turbines cannot be taller than 120 feet, and the land setbacks must be a distance of at least 1.5 times the height of the turbine. Also the turbine must be set back at least three times the distance of its height from the nearest inhabited home, other than the owner’s.

“I would say it’s so cost prohibitive, I doubt we will ever see a wind turbine in town,” said Marchese. “Although I feel, personally, this bylaw goes too far, we have to protect the town. I’ll be shocked if we ever see wind (turbines). It’s an extraordinarily expensive process.”

Energy consultant John Walsh of Main Street said the bylaw is “onerous” because “there’s not one wind turbine on the market that gets this decibel level. The cost to do this (go through the special permit process) – $5,000 to $10,000 – is onerous.” He added that the Patten Hill area, where the Massaemet Wind Farm had been proposed two years ago, was the only viable place in town for efficient wind turbines. Also builder Noah Grunberg, who is a ZBA member, said the noise limit, of up to 33 decibels, was unrealistic.

The bylaw required a two-thirds majority vote, and it passed 49-7.

The Community Rights Resolution supports the right of residents “to hold public hearings and make motions to vote on all corporate, state or federal energy infrastructure and other large-scale projects within the town as they arise.” Examples cited included pipeline construction, transmission line expansion, large-scale solar arrays, and the dumping of fracking wastewater from neighboring states. It would also prohibit any development activity of such projects until residents “have had the opportunity to put motions to vote, and only then if the majority ruled in favor of allowing the project.” It also requires developers to notify the Board of Selectmen of any proposed project before contacting landowners.

The original motion also said the resolution would “defend majority rule … as the ultimate authority in approving such projects,” and “protect the rights of Shelburne farms, businesses and companies to engage in resource harvesting and/or industrial activity.” These two clauses, however, were dropped from the article, which ultimately was approved by a majority vote.

Marchese said he had concerns that the resolution impinged on the rights of landowners “who pay taxes, versus the rights of a community telling him what he can or cannot do with his land.” He said townspeople should trust the Planning Board to develop a bylaw regarding the pipeline, similar to the process which resulted in the wind turbine proposal.

Carolyn Engel of Old Greenfield Road remarked that people are already getting letters from Kinder Morgan telling them if they don’t allow the company to survey their property, they will go to the Department of Public Utilities.”

“We don’t have the option of going to the Planning Board,” added resident Rita Jaros. “We’re sending a message that this town is going to be actively concerned and is responding. We’re helpless in many, many ways, and this is one thing that we can do.”

Lynn Benander of Main Street said the threat of eminent domain has prompted this action. “It seems the only chance we have is by preventing the survey from happening,” she said.

Open Space Committee member Larry Flaccus said his board recommended its passage.

The prospects of the town’s buying the Jehovah’s Witnesses facility on the Mohawk Trail are now “off the table,” but the warrant asked voters to spend $20,000 for police station renovations, once a site has been chosen. Voters agreed, but amended the article to require the Board of Selectmen to get town meeting approval for whatever new site is selected. Selectmen said they are looking at town-owned buildings, including the Cowell Gymnasium and another occupied town-owned building that they wouldn’t name. Residents said they wanted to know where the police station would be going.

Town government spending will go up 2.2 percent from this year’s budget, for a total of $3.6 million. That includes a 2.5 percent pay raise for most town employees, and a roughly 2 percent increase in education.

Building repairs seem to be prioritized this year; voters agreed to spend the following sums for town-owned buildings:

∎ $48,845 for the Mohawk Trail Regional School District’s capital budget for the coming school year.

∎ $85,000 to buy and install a 30-year roof membrane for Memorial Hall. A separate request is for $5,000 was approved to refurbish the floor in the Memorial Hall selectmen’s meeting room and to make other minor interior repairs.

∎ $50,000 from the Stabilization Account to be spent on the Pratt Memorial Library Building roof replacement project.

∎ $38,000 from the Housing Trust II Account to renovate and reconfigure the Memorial Hall bathrooms so they comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The town has gotten state Department of Transportation permission to use $170,000 of its state Chapter 90 highway funding to buy a new six-wheel dump truck and associated equipment for the Town Highway Department, and voters authorized another $20,000 from “free cash” reserves to pay for related equipment. This will replace a 25-year-old truck that highway officials believe soon won’t pass inspection.

The $783,900 for Buckland Shelburne Elementary School’s five-year capital plan was voted down, at the request of school Superintendent Michael Buoniconti. He said the BSE capital improvements are on-hold for now, because the Towns are considering moving the Senior Center into a wing of the elementary school.

The town’s Agricultural Commission was expanded from five members to nine members and requires that at least two-thirds of the commission be actively involved in agriculture.