2009-11-25 / Front Page

Wind turbine debate now before Town Council

By Phil Zahodiakin

Although the Wind Energy Committee has endorsed Ft. Getty as the island’s most suitable wind turbine site, the Town Council members say they will keep their minds open until the recommendation is formally accepted for consideration – and the public has an opportunity to weigh in.

The committee forwarded its resolution, which strongly favors Ft. Getty over Taylor Point, to each of the council members last week. Reached by the Press last Friday and Saturday, some members said that they had not had an opportunity to read the endorsement, and others said it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment on the recommendation at this stage of the process.

Council President Michael Schnack said he was aware of, but had not yet read, the resolution from the committee. He added, “I am not prepared to comment on something I haven’t officially seen.”

When he read the Press report on the Nov. 17 committee meeting, he opened up the feasibility study from the consultant, he said.

“I am now about a third of the way through that 146-page report, which will at least provide me with some basis to agree, disagree or to ask more questions,” Schnack said.

Council member Robert Bowen said that he had not officially received the committee’s recommendation, and that “the council has not formally received, and accepted, the recommendation or my resignation from the committee, so I’m going to wait before commenting.”

Council member Ellen Winsor, who attended the wind turbine workshop hosted by the previous council and who has read the feasibility study, said she has not formed an overall opinion on the relative merits of the two sites. Noting that the committee preference has not formally reached the council, she added that she is aware of the Ft. Getty preference from the Press story, and that she is eager to learn if there is a way for Jamestown to leverage any future wind energy expenditures.

“A decision like this one always comes down to costs, of course, and Jamestown needs to do the best job of multiplying the dollars we invest in our infrastructure going forward,” Winsor said, adding that she recently spoke with Wind Energy Committee Chairman Don Wineberg about the utility connections for both potential sites, insurance policy details, alternative energy supplemental options and economics, and potential federal funding.

“The Wind Energy Committee took their charge quite seriously and provided an excellently prepared and comprehensive feasibility study report which all Jamestowners can access on the town website, the Philomenian Library or the Town Hall,” she said. “But the council and the committee have yet to deliberate among themselves, or receive community input, with regard to site specifics and funding.”

Council member William Murphy said that he had not seen or read the recommendation, and that “it would be premature for me to comment until I know why they are recommending a particular site.”

Murphy, however, raised a concern that he previously expressed during the candidate forums held before the November election.

“What I said during those forums,” Murphy said, “was simply that if the committee goes with Ft. Getty, we need to see how a turbine is going to affect everything else. Currently, there are ideas floating around to put lots of additional facilities in at Ft. Getty, and my concern is: Where are you going to put everything? The devil is in the details, and the job will be to examine just how everything that’s been proposed is supposed to fit in there. The town has made mistakes in the past by making decisions one at a time, without looking out [for] how a series of decisions will ultimately fit together.”

Murphy said he has come up with a list of eight additional facilities that people have proposed for Ft. Getty.

“I’m just afraid that we’ll make that beautiful open space look like a city,” he said. “And what about the campers? How will they be affected? They are nice people, they’ve provided a good revenue stream for the town over the last 20-plus years, and I need to know exactly how a turbine would impact them.”

Council member Michael White said he’s in the process of “working my way through that long feasibility study” and that he’s looking at all the potential pros and cons of Ft. Getty and Taylor Point.

“Both sites have advantages and disadvantages,” he said. “But I haven’t made any decisions.

White said that he needs to hear all interested parties talk about the issue, adding that the recommendation from the committee indicated that there weren’t any complaints from the Ft. Getty neighbors when it held its workshop.

“But at the same time, there’s a letter to the editor – and I don’t know where that person lives – but it indicates that not everyone is happy about a turbine at Ft. Getty,” he said.

White reflected, however, that a Ft. Getty turbine “doesn’t seem like it would be terribly obtrusive. It is an open area, so it wouldn’t necessarily have as many residents being affected. I know they studied shadow-flicker impacts pretty extensively, and they included quite a few bird studies in the feasibility study, so, off the top of my head, I don’t have a great objection to Ft. Getty, but I have to do some more pondering before I can come up with a decision – and we have to ponder it as a community.”

Referring to popular support for “green” energy, White added, “Everyone seems to be pro-wind power, but it remains to be seen how people will respond when we say, “Okay, we’ve reached a point where we’re going to seek approval for the money and building a wind turbine. That’s when we’ll really hear the negatives. I’m looking forward to this discussion. It should be interesting.”

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