2012-05-10 / News

Conservation panel reconsiders its vote to support turbine

Commission voted in April not to object to project, but new issues have come up
BY MARGO SULLIVAN

The Conservation Commission said at its Tuesday meeting that it is having second thoughts about the proposed Taylor Point wind turbine.

Last month, the panel evaluated the turbine’s aesthetic impact and voted 5-1 not to object to the project. Commissioner Ted Smayda disagreed and said the turbine “would be totally obscene,” but the other commissioners argued the benefits of green, renewable energy outweighed concerns about the turbine’s visual appearance.

Tuesday night – after receiving new information that the turbine’s blades might encroach on conservation open space – the panel voted unanimously to put the wind turbine back on its June 12 agenda and send the Planning Commission a letter.

“It’s an ever-evolving story,” said Carol Trocki, chairwoman of the Conservation Commission. Her letter will put the Planning Commission on notice that “new information came up that is unsettling to us,” as Commissioner Kate Smith put it.

The issue about the open space actually emerged during a recent Planning Commission discussion, Commissioner Maureen Coleman said. Coleman put the issue in context by saying the encroachment was on a par with building a house overhanging a neighbor’s property.

“If you were building a home and it extended over open space, or over someone else’s property line, that would be a deal breaker,” she said.

Yet, the conservation commissioners had been unaware of the open-space issue when they voted on the turbine project, she said.

“We weighed in on the aesthetics within our charge,” Coleman said, meaning the commissioners considered only how the turbine’s visual impact related to their charge to preserve Jamestown’s natural aesthetic places.

But since that meeting, new information has come to light, Coleman said, and the new details suggest the turbine’s blades might encroach into conservation open space. That’s a separate issue from aesthetics, she said, and to weigh it, the commission might be obligated to reopen the wind turbine debate.

The Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Review will ultimately decide on the building variance for the turbine. The Conservation Commission has only an advisory role and makes recommendations to other town boards, Trocki said.

However, the Planning Commission could decide as soon as June 6 whether to recommend the wind turbine to the Zoning Board, Coleman said.

“They could just approve it to go to zoning and it would be done,” Coleman said.

“We should be present at that meeting,” Smayda said. “That’s the pressure point.”

Smyda also said the commissions ought to meet together and make sure they were reaching a consensus.

“This is a turning point on the island,” he said. “We need to meet eyeball to eyeball and discuss it. Let’s get rid of the damn rumors and work with a hard data set.”

Given the possibility the Planning Commission could make a decision June 6, Town Councilor Ellen Winsor, who is liaison to the Conservation Commission, asked if the commissioners wanted to alert the Planning Commission about their dilemma.

“If they were to go forward or to kill the project, you have some ambivalence,” Winsor said. “Do you want that on the table before they make a decision?”

Trocki said she didn’t have enough information to say if her opinion had changed since she voted April 10. She would want to know for a fact if the turbine did encroach on conservation land and by how much before she reconsidered her earlier vote.

She also didn’t want to go to the planning board and say the Conservation Commission hadn’t considered some of the issues. Trocki said she would rather tell the planning commissioners that her opinion had changed.

“We didn’t know about the issues,” Smith said. She suggested saying in the letter that they are not yet ready to reverse themselves.

“Are we retracting?” Commissioner Patrick Driscoll asked.

“We’re on the record,” Trocki countered, but she added since the Planning Commission is apparently seeking answers to the same questions the conservation commissioners are asking, the first step would be to attend the June 6 meeting and ascertain the facts.

“There’s a lot we didn’t know,” Driscoll said.

The Planning Commission had appeared poised to go along with the turbine project. But when the open-space question and other issues developed, such as the vagueness about the location of the electrical interconnect, the commissioners decided they didn’t have enough information to make a decision for or against. They postponed their vote and charged a consultant with researching the outstanding questions, such as the length of the turbine’s blades.

Town Planner Lisa Bryer said at the May 2 Planning Commission meeting she expects to have the consultant’s answers prior to June 6, when the Planning Commission will discuss the project again.

The consultant’s findings might alter the conservation recommendation, Trocki indicated, but she didn’t have enough information Tuesday night to say so.

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