Some challenge Deepwater right to request permit

Mon, 03/02/2009 - 12:00am
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02/28/09 - Rather than ask for a special use permit — a process that can take months — the company behind a proposed meteorological tower is seeking a special temporary permit from the Town Council next week. Such permits are limited to serving the public health and safety, and some residents claim a weather tower doesn’t fit the bill.

Deepwater Wind, the developer planning two wind farms off the coast of Block Island, says it needs the tower to gather data for the projects. The company wants to erect the 180-foot metal pole tower on town-owned land near the Coast Guard station and keep it there for one to two years.

On Tuesday Vice President for Development Clint Plummer said the town manager recommended that the company apply for the special temporary permit rather than a more traditional special use permit.

“Given that this is supposed to be a short-term structure it was suggested that this would be better as a special temporary permit because it gives the town more control,” Plummer said. “If we were to go through zoning and put this up, then it would become a permanent structure.”

A special temporary permit is good for six months. After that, the council may renew it for one additional six-month period.

The special temporary permit that Deepwater is asking for skirts normal zoning application procedures, bypassing formal notification of abutters and the Zoning Board altogether.

The Town Council may grant such permits, according to the ordinance that governs them, “in circumstances of emergency or other urgent necessity for the public health and safety.”

That has at least one neighbor upset.

“Unless you can tell me what the urgency is or imminent public safety then clearly the process they’re using is inappropriate,” Howell Conant said Monday.

Conant said he had not formed an opinion on whether he supported the placement of the tower because he lacked information. He called on Deepwater to follow the normal process for installing a tower, which would be a special use permit.

Plummer said Deepwater is not opposed to securing a special use permit, but would prefer the temporary permit to keep the first wind farm on track for a completion by 2012.

“The sooner we can put this thing up, the sooner we can take it down and the greater confidence we can have to meet our timeline,” he said.

The council already has a history of granting Deepwater special temporary permits. Last month it granted one to allow Deepwater to install an avian radar unit at the Southeast Lighthouse. First Warden Kim Gaffett said that request, and the one before the council Monday, qualify for a special temporary permit because a wind farm could help the island.

“The possibility of being able to utilize alternative energy and maybe even lower our rates is for the public good,” Gaffett said.

She acknowledged the ordinance does not use the words “public good” but said the ordinance implied it.

Besides the permit for the avian radar, previous councils have granted at least two special temporary permits. In 2003 the Town Council granted a permit to a family to live in a tent after construction of their home was delayed. In 2006 the council granted a permit for an asphalt plant being used in conjunction with the repaving of High Street.

On Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Deepwater plans an information session at the Community Center to answer questions about its project and tower. The Town Council is expected to hear the permit request at its Monday meeting at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.