FALMOUTH – Residents clashed once again over the future of the town’s controversial wind turbines at Tuesday night’s special town meeting and spent hours debating the three turbine articles on the short warrant.
Voters approved a $200,000 supplement to the town budget to replace income lost by the shutdown of Wind 1, one of the two turbines, that was forced by a cease-and-desist order issued by the Zoning Board of Appeals. But the vote only came after a wide-ranging debate that centered mostly on whether the turbines should continue to spin at all and, by extension, receive more taxpayer funds.
“I don’t think we should spend another hard-earned dollar of the Falmouth taxpayer on this failed project,” said David Moriarty, of West Falmouth. “I think it’s (the state’s) responsibility to absorb any losses that are incurred by the turbines being shut down.”
“Where does he suppose the state is going to get this money? From the taxpayers,” Falmouth resident Richard Latimer countered. “Everyone in this room and everyone in the whole state is going to solve a problem for a handful of people.”
The twin, 397-foot turbines have been a source of controversy since shortly after being installed at the wastewater treatment facility in 2009. Residents have complained about health effects from their operation and have used a number of avenues to try to shut them down but, until this year, have largely been unsuccessful.
Two other wind turbine-related articles were on the special town meeting warrant. Article 2, which passed 118-85, called for the town to support “maximizing the benefits and thereby minimizing any financial burden” to the town from operation of the wind turbines. Article 3 declared that any wind energy system owned by the town and used for municipal purposes now in existence is exempt from the town’s windmill zoning bylaw, which prohibits turbines the size of the devices now in service. The Board of Selectmen voted Monday to delay that article, however, and send it back to the Planning Board for further study; town meeting approved the move by a voice vote.
The bulk of the comments early Monday were against the turbines, including sharp comments from former Selectman Brent Putnam. He was on the board during several key turbine-related decisions and said, in retrospect, the board got faulty legal advice about their installation.
“There comes a time where you really have to cut your losses,” he said.
Late Monday night, town meeting members killed a $300,000 request to study renovations to Town Hall and were poised to do the same to funding for the consolidated dispatch center before Town Moderator David Vieira adjourned the meeting at 11 p.m.
Both items were included in the capital improvements budget, Article 9 on the annual town meeting warrant. The final vote on the article was not taken Monday night, but an amendment did pass to nix the Town Hall renovation line item. The money would have funded a feasibility study for the $4.6 million project, which is planned to be done in phases over the next five years.
But town meeting voters seemed reluctant to pour more money into the half-century-old building and were unmoved by plans by town officials to reconfigure the 21,000-square-foot space to make it more efficient for townspeople doing business there and to bring departments now in rented space back to Town Hall.
“Town Hall has functioned for 50 years. This idea that we’re going to make it more convenient to go through the permitting process, to me, is a bunch of baloney,” said Andy Dufrense, who made the amendment to strike the funding from the capital budget.
The mood didn’t improve much when selectmen asked for $578,500 to fund construction of a consolidated dispatch center at the Falmouth Police Department that would put police, fire, public works and marine dispatchers under one roof to save money on personnel and new equipment.
After the initial proposal to locate it at the Gus Canty Community Center failed at spring town meeting, the town got cost estimates for both the police department and the third floor of the Falmouth Fire Department headquarters. The police station’s cost was about $150,000 less than the fire department’s estimate.
“I think we probably zeroed out these cost savings with all these consultants we hired, “said Matt McNamara. “It’s time to move on, replace the equipment and leave everything where it is.”