2010-10-21 / News

Turbine question stands out among ballot referenda

By Phil Zahodiakin

With one possible exception, none of the four state ballot questions up for a vote on Nov. 2 offers any potential benefit for Jamestown. In an odd twist, the only Jamestown-specific question on the ballot – a proposal for wind-turbine financing – has been targeted for defeat by the Town Council.

The turbine-bond referendum will be Question Number 5. It asks: “Shall an act, passed at the 2010 session of the General Assembly, entitled, ‘An Act authorizing the town of Jamestown to finance the construction of a wind turbine generator and to issue not more than $6,500,000 in bonds and notes therefore,’ be approved?”

The Town Council had endorsed a 1.5-to-2.0 megawatt turbine at Taylor Point. But the ouncil now wants the voters to reject this question because too many problems and uncertainties with the Taylor Point proposal have emerged.

Although the ballot question does not reference any specific turbine location, the town is legally obligated to put the question to the voters – whether or not the bond is ever issued.

During the Town Council’s Oct. 18 meeting, councilor Bill Murphy said, “Please do not ‘not vote.’ If 14 people vote ‘yes,’ and no one else votes at all, then the ballot question will pass!”

Several councilors asked Town Administrator Bruce Keiser and Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero what would happen if, by some fluke, the turbine question passed. Ruggiero said, “It’s very common for municipalities to approve bonds that are never issued. The [turbine-bond] question only asks voters to grant authority for the town to issue a bond: it is not an obligation to spend money.”

Keiser added, however, that it would be undesirable to “provide a blank check to some future council” – which is precisely what would happen if the ballot question passes and its authority remains in force.

Ruggiero told the council that “there is a procedure you could go through to rescind the authority granted by [an enacted] bond referendum.” But the council is hoping to avoid that situation altogether by launching an editorial initiative to defeat the turbinebond proposal.

To that end, the Council voted to endorse a viewpoint, which will run in the Jamestown Press on Oct. 28. The opinion piece will also be submitted to the Newport Daily News.

The editorial will enumerate the issues that have all but eliminated the construction of a large, Taylor Point turbine – which failed to pass Federal Aviation Administration muster. Local grid-capacity restrictions, moreover, have raised questions about the feasibility of constructing a large turbine anywhere else on the island.

Council president Mike Schnack quoted the viewpoint as saying, “This council still fully supports a continued assessment of the role of wind power and other renewable energy sources on the island. However, we cannot ask the voters to support passage of a $6.5 million bond authorization for a now-undefined wind turbine project.”

The turbine-bond referendum will appear as Question 5. The other questions will be:

•Question 1, which will ask voters to approve or reject changing the official name of the state from “The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” to “The State of Rhode Island.” Although one meaning of the word “plantation” is “a settlement in a new country or region” (Merriam Webster, online edition), the association of that word with slavery has driven some to support its excision from the current name of the state – which derives from a time when Aquidneck Island was known as Rhode Island, and Newport was the state capital.

•Question 2, which will ask voter approval for $78 million in bonds for facility construction at the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College.

•Question 3, which will ask voter approval of $84.7 million in transportation bonds, a portion of whose distribution – if the funds are in any way distributed to municipalities – could potentially be used to help Jamestown pay for re-designing the North Road culvert at Great Creek.

•Question 4, which will ask voter approval of $14.7 million in bonds for the purchase of additional land in and around the former Rocky Point Park, among other open-space initiatives.

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