The refusal of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the highest court and adjudicatory forum in our commonwealth, to hear the case related to the Falmouth wind turbines, effectively ending the judicial review of the question of the suitability of the process through which the machines were erected, was not a victory for the impacted neighbors. It was not something to rejoice.
The decision of the SJC to send a message to the town that it is bound by its own rules was simply this: An exclamation point on a five-year sentence of sorrow and crisis of confidence that this issue has become.
There has been no dancing in the streets—because many of the neighbors still cannot spend much time outside without injurious impacts. There is no merriment planned. There is no “gotcha” from the plaintiffs—the citizens, our neighbors—who asserted all along that the town should have sought permission from its own boards and regulatory process, because the decision, while significant, still leaves in its wake broken trust, shattered lives, and a divided community.
Indeed, and alas, this is no decision to celebrate.
So what now?
Now they can begin to make it right. Now they can begin to heal the cavernous wounds that lay gaping—from merciless indignation, from mountainous and still mounting legal costs—funded by the people, purportedly for the people, but unfortunately against the people, and from a public policy failure that began as a well-intentioned, financially and environmentally sustainable effort, but wound up as an epic disappointment and a financial disaster.
A little over a year ago, when the Mass Clean Energy Center (CEC) stuck its nose into the issue and offered the town money with strings attached to bail out the mounting losses from the court-ordered shutdown of these mean machines, I offered the following thoughts:
“It is clear that the town is now losing money every year on these purported money-making machines. It is also clear that the town is facing an admittedly uphill battle in its court cases related to this ill-fated project. In fact, the CEC’s own report opines that, ‘the prospects are at best uncertain for an outcome that the town can manage financially.’ It is becoming clear that the town is acting out of desperation and is willing to risk future financial ruin for short-term financial gain. That is never a good idea, and most assuredly is a terrible idea when the tradeoff includes the continued suffering of neighbors and taxpayers. Acceptance of this payoff from the MassCEC is, in its simplest terms, an excuse for the town to further delay a solution to this problem and foist the solution on a future board. Our own zoning board declared these turbines a nuisance. Our selectmen disagreed and are suing the ZBA. Adding the MassCEC to the table by selling them some decision-making authority only muddles an already painfully complex conundrum.” Those points are still true, perhaps even more so, today. Piling on the SJC’s smackdown to this sad superfecta of local letdowns just may be the final nail in the town’s coffin of credibility.
There is only one way to proceed to preserve any morsel of public confidence, public trust, and public accountability:
The town can reconcile with the neighbors by dismantling the turbines. The town can reconcile with the taxpayers, even those who supported the turbines, by closing the wound that is now bleeding hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses every year. The town can reconcile with its current litigants, including its own zoning board of appeals, by terminating its other court cases and walking away from antagonistic and most assuredly weak and unwinnable legal actions that are accomplishing nothing except making money for attorneys.
I believe that reconciliation is possible. It will not be easy and it will be expensive, but it is possible. Mark Cool, one of the litigants in the town’s unsuccessful petition to the SJC, noted this week that, “Citizenship is a valuable gift. The workings of which often teach other citizens important lessons. I believe our community has reckoned a new lesson and will be better off for it.”
One of the opponents in a suit against the town—who succeeded in fighting city hall—still believes in his community and believes there is a lesson to be learned through the town’s mistakes and through his pain. Reconciliation begins when we get a similar admission from town hall.
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