2011-02-10 / Front Page

Moratorium on wind turbine goes on hold

By Phil Zahodiakin

The Town Council this week shelved a draft moratorium on the construction of residential wind turbines. The moratorium was proposed in December by Councilor Ellen Winsor, who felt that the Town should establish criteria to guide Zoning Board decisions on turbine permits.

The Council met on Feb. 7. At its last meeting, the councilors agreed to ask the Planning Commission to develop the criteria, which would serve as the basis for a town windturbine ordinance.

Currently, any property owner seeking to build a turbine taller than 30 feet must request a special-use permit from the Zoning Board. Winsor had sought to hold in abeyance any requests for turbine permits until an ordinance was adopted. However, the Planning Commission recently said that special-use permits would suffice to protect neighborhoods until an ordinance is in place.

Commission member Susan Little told the Council, “We put a lot of consideration into [possible criteria], but we don’t feel the Planning Commission has the expertise to write regulations. The issue will be addressed in the [Jamestown Community] Comprehensive Plan. There will be a section on wind turbines in conjunction with [the results of] the community survey.”

Although Councilor Bill Murphy agreed that the lack of criteria for Zoning Board decisions on turbine permits is a concern, other councilors expressed reservations about imposing a moratorium at this point.

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said that a newly established state group called the Advisory Committee on Renewable Energy Siting Criteria is addressing the issue. Keiser is a member of the group, and he will keep the Council apprised of its progress toward the development of siting criteria, which could be used as a template for a Jamestown ordinance.

Winsor informed the Council that the Conservation Commission will be taking a look at the issue, and asked if the Zoning Board should be tapped for input. Keiser replied that the Zoning Board is empowered only to evaluate specifi c projects, not policies. Winsor also urged Keiser to seek input from North Kingstown, which recently imposed a moratorium of its own. Keiser replied that he would speak to the North Kingstown town manager.

Council President Mike Schnack observed that there isn’t any influx of applicants seeking turbine permits, and that any applicants could be directed to bring expert witnesses in support of their requests before the Zoning Board.

“We will put the moratorium back on the agenda if there’s a pending need,” Schnack said. The pending need he was referring to included an influx of permit applications.

Another ordinance on this week’s agenda was the Harbor Ordinance and its companion Harbor Management Plan. There will be a public hearing on revisions to the ordinance and the plan held on Feb. 22, at which point there will be some additional revisions for the public to discuss.

Councilors Schnack and Murphy requested the revisions. The draft language says moorings will transfer to spouses, siblings or children if a mooring holder dies; Schnack wants to limit the transfers to spouses. In addition, both Schnack and Murphy want more flexibility in the formula for the allocation of harbor revenue into a segregated infrastructure account.

Winsor issued an invitation to the public to contact councilors by phone or e-mail in advance of the public hearing to raise any questions they may have.

A draft request for proposals inviting vendors to quote their prices for supplying and installing the hardware necessary for live video streaming of Council meetings was taken off the table because of objections raised by Councilor Bob Bowen. There have been four responses to an earlier request for the software piece of the plan, but it was decided that it wouldn’t make sense to award a software contract before the entire cost of the project is known.

Keiser drafted a second request for the hardware piece, although respondents would have the option of combining hardware as well as software quotes in their responses. But Bowen said the draft of the second request was flawed, and required “a significant re-write” because of a bias that would end up favoring one video technology, Internet protocol, over a hard-wired approach.

The councilors all agree that the Town needs to upgrade its archival approach to Council meetings, which are currently audiotaped on cassettes. However, Schnack said, “I’d prefer not to have live streaming at all. We shouldn’t make it easier for the public to avoid participating in Town government.”

Said White, “I know we have meetings recorded by [an outside source], but we should have an offi cial system for recording Council meetings.”

A member of the public addressed the Council on another issue: Threatening animals, and the absence of animal control information on the Town web site.

Nancy Crawford of the Jamestown Humane Society said, “People ask us what to do about [rabid or distempered] animals now that there isn’t an animal control officer, and they don’t know that there’s information posted on the police department web site.”

The Internet address to access Jamestown animal control information is www.jamestownri.net/police/ aco.htm.

Crawford also raised a concern that police officers leave euthanized animals on the roadside, pointing out that she is aware of boys disembarking from a school bus and playing with carcasses. Keiser told Crawford, “Some officers are less willing to pick up dead animals than others.”

Without dismissing Crawford’s concerns, Keiser added, “I’ve recently learned that you can’t pick up rabies from dead animals. Once the animal is dead, the virus dies.”

In other news, Keiser informed the Council that the next Congress of Councils, which will be held in Fall River on Feb. 16, will not be open to the public.

Also, Winsor informed the other councilors that the Jane Pickens Theater in Newport will be screening “Gasland” at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 16, shortly after the Congress of Councils concludes.

The film is a searing indictment of the “fracking” practice used to extract natural gas from bedrock. Winsor expressed concern that, unlike two other Council members, she had not been informed of the screening by a member of the LNG Threat Committee.

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