Council supports wind farm bill

Mon, 05/10/2010 - 1:30pm
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05/08/10 - Town Council members were outspoken Tuesday about the proposed Block Island wind farm before voting to support a Rhode Island Senate bill that would circumvent the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) decision rejecting a contract between National Grid and Deepwater Wind.

The PUC’s 85-page unanimous ruling against the proposed power purchase agreement (PPA) between the private developer and National Grid found that the contract failed to be commercially reasonable.

Sen. Susan Sosnowski introduced a bill April 29 to allow a group of four department heads to review the power purchase agreement and either certify the agreement or not. The departments that would have a voice in the new process are the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, the director of the Office of Energy Resources and the director of the Department of Administration. The group would review the power purchase agreement and written comments from the public before making its decision; however, there would be no evidentiary hearings.

Resident Sean McGarry expressed his opposition to the proposed legislation and to the Block Island wind farm. He questioned the economic benefit that the wind farm would bring to the island and expressed concern about the way the bill would overrule the Public Utilities Commission decision.

McGarry said he thought the Block Island Town Council has been “in the pocket of a corporation.” First Warden Kim Gaffett took exception to the idea that the council was representing anyone other than Block Island citizens.

McGarry alleged that special fees to use town land had been waived for Deepwater Wind. Town Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick explained that Deepwater Wind has paid a building permit fee and rent to use town land. Deepwater Wind was granted several other permits that do not require fees no matter who is seeking the permits.

Resident Pat Doyle said that some islanders are rethinking their support for the wind farm because of the PUC’s decision as well as the introduction of the proposed legislation to reconsider the power purchase agreement by a larger field of state officials.

She asked the council to represent the views of the island and acknowledge that opinion on the wind farm and the bill is evenly divided.

In McGarry’s view, “The majority of people on the island do not support the [Block Island wind farm]. Everyone supports green energy and we are for the 100-turbine farm 12 miles offshore but not in our back yard.”

Council member Peter Baute said that he felt that Block Island should “think globally and act locally.” He mentioned recent tragedies related to the mining of coal and the explosion on an oil rig that is releasing tens of thousands of barrels each day in the Gulf of Mexico.

“With our great wind resources can we say, ‘No, we aren’t going to take part in a solution to these problems?’” Baute asked.

Council Member Ken Lacoste said that while he was in favor of the Block Island wind farm, his “gut reaction” was that the new bill seemed to be “changing the rules.” He said that his reaction was similar to the reaction of David Lewis, who sent a letter to the Town Council (see page 3).

Lacoste highlighted aspects of the proposed legislation that he found particularly troubling such as the lack of evidentiary hearings and that it is not subject to appeal.

Island resident Keith Lewis weighed in on the proposed legislation as well. He said that while he usually is not in favor of changing the rules in the “middle of the game” he felt that sometimes the game “evolves beyond the current rules.”

Lewis noted that since this was the first offshore wind project the state had ever attempted, the old rules may not be adequate to address such a new issue. He also told the council what he thought this father, Rob Lewis a pioneering conservationist on Block Island, would have thought of the wind farm.

“I can’t say for sure what side my father would have been on but I know he favored innovation,” Lewis said. “He also never complained about the old wind mills on the island.”

After a lengthy public discussion, the council voted to support the proposed legislation but also to acknowledge the number of citizens opposed to the wind farm and to ask for an amendment to the bill to limit the cable allocation cost for Block Island.

“I think rather than taking no action or opposing the bill we should be trying to make it better,” Gaffett said.

Sands Pond

Water Superintendent Dave Simmons presented the council with a report of the current situation at Sands Pond and several options of how to proceed. The pond level is currently at its highest in “known recorded history.”

After an extremely rainy March the pond has risen to a level where it is threatening homes aand the water plant, which uses the pond as the town’s back-up water supply.

Simmons reported that the pond has receded by only an inch since it reached its high level in March. Fran Miggliaccio, who owns a home on Sands Pond, said that an assessor determined that the pond has now engulfed half of her property.

The water company has submitted the proper forms to apply for FEMA disaster relief funds when they become available in the future; however, all the funds available now are for damage repairs. Mitigation funds are expected to become available soon.

Simmons identified several options for how to deal with the high water level. The options ranged from lifting and moving the Water Company building and infrastructure to re-establishing the natural drainage at the pond’s south end that was blocked by the construction of Payne Road.

Simmons said that the council now needs to decide on a plan and move forward with an engineering study to determine the cost of the project.

The council agreed and voted to pursue the option of restoring the natural drainage of the pond to the south. Council members directed Town Manager Nancy Dodge to work with Simmons, the town engineer and the town legal counsel to develop a comprehensive plan.

Miscellany

The council also reappointed several members of the Sewer and Water Commission. Frank Leslie and Rally Migliaccio were reappointed to one-year terms as alternates for both commissions and Sandra Finizia was reappointed as a full member for a five-year term.

There was some question about when Cliff McGinnes, Sr., would be reappointed. When he was appointed this past winter, the council had thought his term was up this spring; however, due to a clerical error, his term will actually end in 2012.

The council also renewed taxi and charter bus licenses for the summer. This year, Kim Gaffett will be giving up her charter bus license, and William McCombe will be granted a new charter bus license.