2008-08-21 / Front Page

Conservationists weigh in on wind

By Michaela Kennedy

The Conservation Commission listed environmental concerns to be considered for the wind power feasibility study now underway and sustainable energy consultants gathered information from board members and talked about goals of the study at the Aug. 12 meeting.

Conservation Commissioner Cathy Roheim updated the board on the progress made by the Jamestown Wind Energy Committee. Three sites, Taylor Point, Fort Getty, and Beavertail, are the decided focal points of the study, she reported. Environmental impact and species protection were two major interests of the commission as stakeholders in the project. The two panels are scheduled for a joint meeting on Sept. 9.

Consultants from Applied Technology Management asked for environmentally sensitive data for the three areas. Daniel Mendelsohn asked if there were any "show stoppers," concerns that could halt a development. He stressed the feasibility study would include "a very brief" environmental assessment. A bat and avian specialist would provide some information specific to the sites. "If there's some problem that crops up, the town may need to do a more indepth assessment," he said.

For information on rare species, Roheim suggested looking at the database of the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, but hinted that it might be mostly plant related. The island bird count might also provide helpful data on each of the sites.

Wind committee member Robert Bowen suggested contacting the Audubon Society, which collects avian data on the island.

Commission Chairman Chris Powell suggested the consultants seek out reports that have already been done on wildlife on the island. Osprey nests are located at all three sites, and a peregrine falcon nest is at the Newport Bridge, according to Powell. He suggested paying attention to nesting and migratory routes of shoreline birds, bats, and also monarch butterflies.

Beavertail has wetlands in various areas, and native orchids may be present, Powell added.

The discussion turned to concern of how many turbines the town might try to build. Bowen said the town's initial consideration was to try to install one or two turbines to offset the cost of municipal energy consumption. In a reference to state legislation, he added, "The question is, if we put up more, would we be able to benefit?"

Bowen said that Massachusetts was pursuing turbine construction aggressively, without the level of preliminary investigation being done in Jamestown. He suggested asking specialists in the neighboring state if reports on their turbine impact on wildlife were available. "The Massachusetts Wind Working Group has experience in turbine impacts," he said.

When asked if recreation at the sites would be affected, Mendelsohn told commissioners that turbines were often placed in recreational areas. A person can walk right up to a turbine and touch it, with no fenced off land.

In old business, the commission reviewed findings from their observation of right-of-ways. The previous week, commissioners visited three primary ROWs, Hull Cove, Head's Beach and Park Dock, and discovered improvements could be made. The board agreed to draft a letter of recommendations to the Town Council for the areas.

Suggestions for improvements included multi-lingual signs as a replacement for bleached-out signage, improved trash conditions and better enforcement of parking rules.

The site visits were done in response to a letter of complaint from Varoujan Karentz of Hull Cove Farm Road earlier in the season. Karentz's letter stressed concern with environmental impacts at Hull Cove due to overuse.

In a brief discussion about form-based zoning, Commissioner Mark Baker reported that the new zoning code was currently being written, with a focus on increased density in the downtown area. "If that means encroachment on sensitive areas, like water bodies, it is very critical for us," Baker said.

Powell reported on a meeting with town officials about the construction of a trailhead and parking at the water treatment plant on North Main Road. He said an agreement on the design was finally reached. The beginning of the trail would run along the outside of the fence. The design includes an osprey viewing platform behind the wall and two parking spaces.

In correspondence, the commission acknowledged:

• a letter from attorney Peter Brockmann asking for information the commission reported about possible environmental impacts of a development plan for his client John Hayes of Seaside Drive.

• a letter from Town Clerk Arlene Petit in response to Brockmann's request.

• a Coastal Resources Management Council notice to Garret and Casey Roberts of a cease and desist order at Hull Cove for clearing within 200 feet of a coastal zone.

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