2011-11-10 / News

Conservation panel mulls over location of proposed turbine

BY MARGO SULLIVAN

At Tuesday’s Conservation Commission meeting, the word of the day was “creep,” as the board considered a number of recent developments, which, if unopposed, might someday lead to encroachment on conservation land or values.

Much of the discussion during the Nov. 8 meeting dealt with the proposed wind turbine at Taylor Point. The turbine, which had lost traction several weeks ago, is now back in play, according to Carol Trocki, the Conservation Commission chairwoman. Trocki said stimulus money had been redirected to pay for a scaled-down version of the original.

Trocki estimated the newer, smaller wind turbine was between 20 to 30 feet shorter than the original. Plans on the drawing board locate the turbine at Taylor Point but inside an area zoned OS-1, and protected as open space.

A wind turbine is not an allowed use inside an OS-1 zone, Trocki said.

Trocki raised the possibility that the Town Council at its Nov. 21 meeting will vote to ask the Planning Commission to review a zoning change to accommodate the turbine. This change would essentially redraw the zoning lines so the location proposed for the wind turbine would then fall inside the so-called public zone, instead of the OS-1 zone, she said.

“It’s a fine detail,” Trocki said. “Just move the line – very nuanced.”

Trocki said she wanted the panel to decide if they wanted to protest the turbine’s location. On the one hand, she said, the Conservation Commission does want to support renewable energy. And this particular location, which was in a roundabout used for parking, did not have “strong conservation values,” she said.

But, on the other hand, the zoning change, if allowed, might set a bad precedent.

The commissioners considered whether setting this precedent would clear the way to build more turbines in designated OS-1 sites, if Jamestown’s population keeps growing and town officials want to harness more wind energy to keep pace with consumption.

Commissioner Michael Brown said the issue was “the creep,” meaning encroachment on the open space. “Is this going to start a war or something,” he said, “or is this something we’re going to be able to swallow?” Brown said he was also concerned a bad precedent would be set.

“We’re allowing it in the case of renewable resources,” he said, “but not to accommodate someone who wants to build a McMansion.”

“We’ll give up a patch of land to have some green energy but not if it’s starting a carte blanche precedent,” he said.

The problem boiled down to “the creep issue,” Commissioner George Souza said. “Once you start, how do you stop?”

Trocki said she would try to get answers from Town Administrator

Bruce Keiser and Town Planner Lisa Bryer on why the turbine couldn’t go across the street next to the highway department garage. She would also find out if another parking area would have to be designated to compensate for the loss of parking spaces; if the turbine would be surrounded by a fence to limit public access; and if a fire buffer zone would be required around the wind turbine.

The Conservation Commission could better decide how to proceed when it had answers to those key questions, she said.

The commission, Trocki said, would prefer to see the turbine on the opposite side of the street and by the highway garage in space that’s zoned public. She suggested sending a new letter to the councilors reiterating the Conservation Commission’s stand on the turbine’s placement.

“It’s got to go someplace,” Brown said. He did not mind so much seeing the turbine at Taylor Point, rather than at Fort Getty, Fort Wetherill or Beavertail.

In other business, the commissioners took no action on a request from Phil Larson to support his shellfish aquaculture education application. Larson has proposed raising 3,000 oysters and 1,000 clams at Sheffield Cove. He has the backing of Lawn Avenue School science teacher Deb Barone.

Brown wanted to know the environmental impact.

“Usually positive,” Trocki said, but added the shellfish could become contaminated if the water was not clean.

When Brown questioned the aesthetic appearance of the shellfi sh farm, Trocki said Larson’s plan is to sink the shellfish farm, similar to one near the beach by Watson Farm.

“All you see from the surface of the water is a couple of buoys,” she said.

Maureen Connolly said she preferred not to endorse an individual, even though the commissioners could support the concept.

Souza said the issue came down once again to creep.

“Three thousand oysters and 1,000 clams to educate kids?” he asked. “What comes next? It’s the whole creep question again.” He said he could envision a recreational clam digger or a resident being pushed out by Larson’s aquaculture experiment.

“Before you know it, somebody gets upset,” he said.

Brown said he preferred not “to support any specific project.”

In other business, Trocki reported progress on the management plan for the Jamestown Shores tax lots. Keiser, Nancy Ventrone of the Jamestown Shores Association, Carol Nelson-Lee of the Conanicut Island Land Trust, and the town solicitor met and “all agreed a management plan was needed.”

Nelson Lee said Bryer was charged with writing the plan.

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