2010-09-23 / Front Page

Turbine question won’t be on November ballot

Council delays decisions on Ft. Getty
By Phil Zahodiakin

The Jamestown Town Council this week held off major decisions on the future of Ft. Getty camping and a wind turbine site. The eventual site is likely to be Ft. Getty, but the previously selected location – Taylor Point – could be brought back to the table because of an unexpected development.

Whatever the final selection will be, council members concluded during the Sept. 20 meeting that there won’t be enough time to pick a site before Election Day, so the referendum proposing a Jamestown wind turbine bond will not appear on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Council members also agreed to proceed with a plan to endorse a statewide divestiture of equity holdings in Amerada Hess, which seeks to build a LNG facility in Mt. Hope Bay with its Weaver’s Cove LLC partner.

The Taylor Point turbine proposal was recently rejected by the Federal Aviation Administration, which said that the threat of electromagnetic interference with airplanes on instrument approach to Quonset Point disqualified any turbine taller than 202 feet – half the height of the 1.65 to 2.0- megawatt windmill proposed for the site.

A turbine with significantly less output, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said, wouldn’t return enough revenue to justify its cost.

During the previous council meeting, Keiser said the FAA decision could not be appealed. He has since learned that the agency could be persuaded to reconsider its decision if “rigorous analysis and modeling” demonstrated that the threat to avionics from a Taylor Point turbine could be mitigated.

But there are two issues raised by a second look at Taylor Point. The first is financial: A “rigorous” analysis of interference from the site would cost $36,500. The second is procedural: The Air National Guard would have to alter its landing procedures by increasing the specified altitude of approaching planes.

Because Keiser received newly prepared analyses of al- ternative sites – Ft. Getty and the North Main Road landfill – shortly before the meeting, councilors could not weigh the results.

However, it has been determined that the North Main Road landfill would not pass FAA muster due to its elevation and location in the middle of flight paths. The analysis of Ft. Getty does not predict any problems as serious as those at Taylor Point.

The details of a third alternative – Beavertail State Park – will be submitted for FAA consideration, but Beavertail raises some thorny issues, including the necessity to build three turbines to offset power-transmission losses from the site to the grid.

So, the council will review the analysis of the Ft. Getty site and decide if it’s worth pursuing an intensive analysis of Taylor Point. The decision is time-sensitive because the deadline for appealing the FAA determination is Nov. 8.

If the council ultimately selects Ft. Getty, the decision will have an impact on future uses of the park. Nevertheless, council member Bob Bowen wanted to make some “short-term” decisions, such as a go-ahead for a recreation dept. storage shed, while council member Bill Murphy wanted to make a long-term decision – namely, a formal commitment to recreational vehicle camping.

None of those decisions were brought to a vote, however, because of positions taken by other councilors – along with some strong public comments – backing additional Ft. Getty discussions.

Council President Mike Schnack summed up the difficulties of the Ft. Getty decisions, saying, “We have finite resources with infinite possibilities.” He was referring to the 28 acres available for the existing – and proposed – uses of the park. However, the financial resources necessary to implement infrastructure upgrades alone are formidable.

The numbers “take your breath away,” said council member Mike White.

Those numbers were laid out in a letter to the council from Town Engineer Mike Gray. Estimates included: $70,000 for the shed; $55,000 for a shed bathroom and associated septic system to serve tent campers and the gatehouse attendant, as well as recreation dept. employees; $220,000 for a new bathroom in the middle of the RV campground; $40,000 to replace 1,800 feet of cast iron water pipe leading into the park; and $330,000 to upgrade electrical service (from 20 amps to 50 amps) for each of the 105 RV camp sites.

Murphy, with support from White, maintained that none of those financial decisions could be logically made until a decision is made on the future of RV camping at the park. Bowen argued, “We could make a decision to keep camping at the park without defining the type of camping.”

Schnack, however, pushed back, saying he was “not ready to make a decision on the [RV] campground, but I would be disposed to hold a charrette because I don’t think we have all the information we need. The campground is just one piece of the puzzle.”

The other key pieces of the “puzzle” include “alternative ways to produce revenue from the park,” said council member Ellen Winsor, who advocated for “a committee of councilors and town officials to go to the park and determine the costs for alternative revenue sources.”

Even a modest reconfiguration of the campsites – which would probably be necessary if a turbine is built in the park – would not be inexpensive because some concrete pads would have to be installed and others removed. Eliminating all of the campsites would incur the cost of removing all of the pads.

But the “drumbeat” for more resident access to the site is not subsiding.

Mary Meagher, who chaired the former Ft. Getty Master Plan Committee, told the council that “the park presents an incredible opportunity that few other communities have.”

Nancy Coleman Ventrone reminded the council that “the walking paths are overgrown, the pavilion is in a shambles, and residents who want to use the park during the off-season find that the bathroom is closed.”

At this point, it appears that the council will gather more public input in support of a Ft. Getty implementation plan.

Keiser said that “it would be ambitious to put together an implementation before the end of the next [2011] season,” but Murphy said that “the timeframe is much shorter because of the windmill.”

In other business, the council:

• Accepted and referred to the LNG Threat Committee a LNG Working Group letter urging R.I. municipalities to divest their investment portfolios or pension funds of any holdings, including stock and preferred stock, in Amerada Hess. Winsor urged the council to send the municipalities an endorsement of the letter, thereby taking “a leadership role in this strategy,” but the other councilors wanted the town Threat Committee to vet her proposal.

• Sitting as Water and Sewer Commissioners, adopted budgets that will not result in any fiscal year 2010-11 rate hikes for water and sewer service.

• Learned that Public Works Director Steven Goslee will retire next spring.

• Learned that Keiser has still not received an appraisal of the town’s Ft. Wetherill property.

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