2010-01-21 / Front Page

Council fast tracks turbine

By Phil Zahodiakin

The Jamestown Town Council put the brakes on two pending initiatives and assigned priority status to another this week.

During its meeting on Tuesday night, the council placed a recommendation from the Wind Energy Committee on a fast track. On Nov. 17, the committee formally identified Ft. Getty as the island’s most suitable wind turbine site, but the council has not yet had an opportunity to review that recommendation.

However, there is a March 1 deadline for the town to apply for a federal grant in support of a turbine, so the council decided to schedule a Jan. 25 workshop on the committee’s conclusions.

“The committee report shows that it’s economically feasible to build a turbine at Ft. Getty or Taylor Point,” said council member Robert Bowen, who left the Wind Energy Committee after his election to the council. “It’s nice to have a report, but I’d rather have a turbine,” he said, adding that the council now has to decide on a site.

There was no such urgency assigned to a planned survey of Jamestown opinions on the long- term future of Ft. Getty. In fact, the council formally disbanded the Ft. Getty Master Plan Committee.

Council President Michael Schnack, pointing out that the committee completed its mission in March, 2006, proposed to reconstitute a Ft. Getty panel with residents, as well as ex officio members from town departments, “so we can have a fresh look at the issues.”

Although council member Ellen Winsor said she would like to see the town proceed with the survey, other council members felt that the survey questions should be reviewed and updated by the reconstituted panel.

The council was less decisive in response to the pending launch of an ad hoc group to brainstorm a town sailing school at Ft. Getty.

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser told the council that “Chris Powell has some commitments from folks in our sailing community, so the question is: Do you want that group to start its work?”

Some council members supported the idea, but others felt it was premature because the next Ft. Getty panel might address a sailing school as part of its charge.

The council was unequivocal, however, in turning down a pair of draft resolutions opposing the liquefied natural gas facility proposed for Mt. Hope Bay. The council had previously endorsed such a resolution, but faulted various aspects of the drafts submitted by Winsor on behalf of the LNG Working Group.

The drafts were substantially the same, with one intended for Jamestown and the other for coastal communities to sign as a group. Referring to language that quotes a Government Accountability Office finding that there have been situations where the Coast Guard has fallen short of its standards for LNG tanker escorts, council member William Murphy said that he would not “in any way, shape or form sign on” to “any document which casts any aspersions on the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Bowen also dismissed the GAO quotation, adding that he was caught off guard by the parallel resolution for other towns.

“If this council has a problem with the Coast Guard language, other councils might have problems with it – and raise other issues, too,” Schnack said.

Murphy and White both expressed a preference for the “general language” in the LNG resolution passed by the General Assembly and co-sponsored by Rep. Deborah Ruggiero.

Winsor defended the text of the Working Group resolution as, among other things, necessarily “educational” because “we are behind the curve on this issue.”

A second LNG issue – that of potential intervenor status for Jamestown – was addressed by Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero. Intervenor status affords opportunities for towns to participate in federal hearings, among other benefits. However, the billable hours spent by Tiverton and Bristol to gain that status indicate that the legal costs for Jamestown would approach $200,000.

“I’d be concerned about that kind of open-ended expenditure when we are trying to save money,” Murphy said.

Nevertheless, the possibility of cost sharing by a consortium of coastal communities is a real possibility. In March, the Alliance for a Livable Newport will hold an LNG “summit” during which any town council members in attendance could explore cooperative agreements on legal strategies – and joint resolutions, as well.

In other business, the council agreed to:

• Sign a letter supporting a Conservation Commission request for a Coastal Resources Management Council grant to help pay for phragmites management in Round Marsh. In her presentation on behalf of the commission, Carol Lynn Trocki explained that the restoration effort will involve excavation and saltwater diversion into infested areas, but not any herbicide treatments. She also noted that the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service has already awarded $67,800 toward the $92,000 project, and that the work will not cost Jamestown any money – although Keiser speculated that town workers might be available to run heavy equipment, thereby paring $4,800 from excavation costs.

• Allocate $5,000 for a wetlands biologist to delineate the wetlands areas in the vicinity of the proposed bike path. Former council member Bob Sutton explained that a survey is necessary before presenting a final bike path plan to state agencies for review.

• Consider during budget hearings a financial analysis of the costs to run, and potential revenues from, a municipal court. “Rhode Island communities with courts are allowed to keep an extra $2 from each ticket,” said Keiser, who is performing the analysis with Town Clerk Arlene Petit. “We would also receive court costs.” It was noted by Schnack, however, that the revenue from a local court might not promote a favorable impression of Jamestown – especially by the ticketed community.

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