FALMOUTH – The two wind turbines at the town’s wastewater treatment plant have been a source of controversy since they began spinning almost a decade ago, and they proved to be the source of a long debate Wednesday, when town meeting was asked to pay $2.5 million to dismantle them.
Ultimately the request was approved by a healthy margin.
Before discussion on the expense even got underway, town meeting member Ronald Zweig made an unsuccessful attempt to derail it by proposing an amendment that would put the fate of the turbines to a ballot vote instead of before town meeting.
The turbines could remain standing and cost the town only about $35,000 to maintain them, Zweig said. Ten or 15 years from now, the neighbors who brought a total of nine lawsuits against the town over the turbines may not be there anymore, Zweig said, and the turbines could again spin.
Zweig pointed out the town had voted not to take the turbines down in a 2013 ballot vote. “The $2.5 million is only the tip of the iceberg,” he warned.
The 2013 vote took place before a Barnstable Superior Court judge ordered that neither Wind 1 nor Wind 2 could spin again at its current location, Selectman Douglas Brown said.
“We can’t just put this off forever,” Brown said.
“The problem with going back for a vote is it’s just an empty vote,” Megan English Braga, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said. “We can’t overturn a court judgment with a ballot vote. We have a court order that directs us to do a particular thing.”
Braga said officials will look at all options, including running one of the turbines in another town to meet the requirements of a $3.5 million grant that says Wind 2 must operate or the town has to pay back the money.
“We’re just running in a circle, going back to the public and having them vote on something we have no control over,” Braga said. “It’s irresponsible for us not to vote on it.”
Zweig’s proposed amendment failed, with 51 in favor and 156 opposed.
When the main request for $2.5 million was brought back to the floor, John Noonan lobbied for its defeat, saying town meeting members do not want to vote on turbine-related costs piecemeal, they want to know full costs.
Finance Committee Chairman Nick Lowell said his panel voted to support the $2.5 million expense. “We’re in a deep hole,” Lowell said. “We’ve got to dig out of the hole, and it’s time to do it. Taking the turbines down will make them more attractive to someone else.”
Delaying the dismantling could prompt the town to demand the $3.5 million state grant be repaid, Suso said. “Doing nothing is not an option.”
Town Moderator David Vieira ended discussion after an hour and called for a vote. The article passed with 143 in favor and 63 opposed.
A request to allow the selectmen to negotiate for an open property at Worcester Court and Spring Bars Road to be used for municipal off-street parking also prompted a long debate. Town Manager Julian Suso said parking is at a premium in the village area. Shuttles could run to beaches, downtown and Woods Hole, he said.
Several town meeting members argued it was not a good deal.
Deborah Siegel said there was already a transportation problem on the Cape. “It will get worse if we build more parking lots for more people,” she said. “I’d like to talk for the many people who are unhappy about the increase in congestion in this town.”
Speakers said there was plenty of off-street parking during peak times in the summer in the area’s school lots. Shuttles could run from there, they said.
Potential contamination also was raised, with speakers expressing concern the property was once a car wash.
English Braga explained no money would change hands. The article was just giving the selectmen the go-ahead to explore the option of leasing the property.
Town meeting narrowly approved the article.
The Falmouth Housing Trust lobbied for authorization to refurbish an abandoned single-family house on Williams Hollow Road that stands on an 88-acre property the town plans to one day use for a municipal well. It would then be sold as affordable housing.
Trust Executive Director Karen Bissonnette stressed the need for more affordable housing. The trust was looking for a 2-acre parcel to be split from the property, leaving the town with 86 acres for a well.
“Falmouth’s lack of affordable housing is an obstacle to attracting a workforce,” Bissonnette said. “Median price of a house in Falmouth is $425,000. Many of you bought houses when prices were reasonable. They are not anymore.”
Although the location is not ideal, the house is solid, Bissonnette said. The plan is to sell the house for $170,000.
Water Superintendent Stephen Rafferty urged town meeting to vote against the article, saying the state takes a “very dim view” of any encroachment on water resources. “There are other locations for affordable housing,” Rafferty said. “There are few locations for a source of water.”
Builder Michael Duffany, who has been working with the housing trust, said he went inside the house. “It rained on Thursday and I was in there Friday and it was bone dry,” he said. “This house is extremely salvageable. This is an opportunity.”
Other speakers brought up such drawbacks as the narrow dirt road the house sits on and current lack of utilities, but town meeting member Joanna Bennett said she and her husband spent 10 years looking for an affordable unit in town for their family. “This house would have been a godsend,” she said.
After another long debate, town meeting soundly defeated the housing trust’s request.
In other action, town meeting:
• Defeated a petition to loosen wetlands restrictions on pools of water that may accumulate in a property owner’s yard.
• Approved a petition to adopt the state’s stretch energy code for more energy-efficient new construction.
Town meeting will continue Thursday night to consider a request from veterans to lease the current senior center on Dillingham Avenue when the new center opens and some charter changes.
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