Wind turbine dispute spurs resignations
On the surface, it all seems sort of like a schoolyard disagreement.
In a letter to the Town Council – and copied to the Jamestown Press – Wind Energy Committee Chair Don Wineberg resigned his position on both the Wind Energy Committee and the Jamestown Zoning Board of Review, writing, “I cannot serve a council majority that shows such poor financial, environmental and political judgment.”
Then, in a letter of his own, committee member William “Bucky” Brennan also resigned, writing, “I do not support the current Town Council’s decision to prevent the voters of Jamestown from deciding on the benefi ts of installing a wind turbine at Ft. Getty.”
At first glance, it might seem that Wineberg and Brennan are simply upset that the council didn’t support the committee’s recommendation to apply for federal stimulus funds to site two turbines on Conanicut island – one at Ft. Getty and one at Taylor Point.
Instead, the council voted to apply for $750,000 in federal stimulus funds to site one turbine at Taylor Point.
But the issue is really a deeper one, according to Wineberg.
“To me, it’s about the process,” he said.
According to Council President Michael Schnack, on Feb. 1, the Wind Energy Committee recommended that a wind turbine be sited at Ft. Getty. But at that time, he said, the committee also said that it would support siting a turbine at Taylor Point if the council decided on that location.
At issue for the council, it seems, was a question of electrical costs.
“Our question was, ‘Did the financial model erase the town’s electric bill and make money on top of that?’” said Town Council member Robert Bowen, who served on the Wind Energy Committee until he was elected to the Town Council. “The Wind Energy Committee couldn’t answer that question.”
That, Bowen said, was unacceptable.
“That’s such a core basic fact,” he said. “After two-anda half years, shouldn’t they have known that?”
The council deadlocked at that meeting; with one member absent from the meeting, the vote was a 2-2 split.
“We handed it back to the Wind Energy Committee to answer that question” on electrical costs, Bowen said.
And that is where things went wrong.
Wineberg said that the council asked the Wind Energy Committee to make a presentation at its next meeting and to bring in an economist. But during that second meeting, the committee was not allowed to present, he said.
Instead, he said, the council voted not to apply for stimulus funds for two turbines.
“The council vote made it clear that this council does not support a second turbine,” Wineberg said. “The vote of one person on the town council has the power to make that decision for the town.”
But Schnack said the Wind Energy Committee wasn’t asked to present at the second meeting.
“They weren’t asked to present,” he said. “They were asked to provide a cost model with electricity included.”
As for the future of a Ft. Getty turbine, Schnack said, the decision is not yet final.
“At this time, we weren’t ready to go for two turbines,” he said, adding that the vote was on whether the council wanted to seek funding for two turbines. “Nobody said that there would never be a turbine at Ft. Getty.”
Brennan said he would like to see the idea of a turbine at Ft. Getty go to a vote at the upcoming financial town meeting.
“If the town’s people want it, great,” he said. “If not, OK. I’m good with that.”
Bowen said he found Wineberg’s decision to resign from the committee “unfortunate.”
Schnack agreed, saying, “I don’t think what they did was very constructive.”
Wineberg said that he’s not a confrontational person and that he usually doesn’t stay angry for long.
“I’m all about letting Jamestowners decide what should happen at Ft. Getty,” he said. “What I can’t live with is one person deciding that for everybody else.”
But Schnack says that making the tough decisions is part of the responsibility of Town Council members.
“Somebody’s always going to be angry,” he said. “But the council has to make decisions. If people aren’t happy with those decisions, then next election, run for council.”