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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Thar she blows! Another PC blow-up scheduled for tonight

Tonight, the Planning Commission will once again advance the cause of ignorance and backwards thinking by "working" on the details to implement Charlestown's ban on wind turbines.

That is, unless the meeting is blown up like the last PC meeting by objections from Whalerock and its attorney Nick Gorham. Gorham did a pretty good job of challenging the Planning Commission for its clear bias against wind energy. Gorham also accused the Planning Commission of electile dysfunction by violating Rhode Island law requiring municipal boards and commissions to be appointed, not elected. Those challenges by Gorham forced the Planning Commission to abort that meeting, so we'll be eagerly awaiting tonight's action.

To spice things up, there's the story in yesterday's Westerly Sun about Whalerock developer Larry LeBlanc's alternative plans for his site, if the Planning Commission succeeds in blocking his wind turbine proposal. (Incidentally, I don't support the Whalerock proposal nor do my colleagues on the Democratic Town Committee because we believe it's in the wrong place and isn't practical).

LeBlanc actually has a Plan B, C and D in case the wind turbine deal doesn't work out. He has started the paperwork process for a 39-unit affordable housing complex (another type of project the Planning Commission loves to hate). If the Planning Commission does what it usually does and arbitrarily rejects the project, LeBlanc would have a pretty strong case to take to the State Housing Appeals Board (SHAB). SHAB has the authority to override a wrongful local decision.

If the wind turbine or the affordable housing proposals don't fly, then LeBlanc might work a deal with the Narragansetts, selling them his land to add to the land they already control. Then, if Congress passes favorable legislation, there might just be enough land there to build the much dreaded casino.

Then, of course, LeBlanc has once again floated the offer that the town buy the land. Hey Cliff, more open space!

And if all of this fails, then he could propose his land as the place to move the URI Bay Campus controversial 50-year old nuclear power plant.

Though tonight's Planning Commission meeting is about an ordinance that bans outright all wind turbines except those that are for municipal or non-commercial use, and sets up impossible conditions for those, the newly aggressive Whalerock proposal will be the elephant in the room.

Ill Wind RI, the lead Whalerock NIMBY group, and the Planning Commission have staked out such an extreme anti-wind technology position that Charlestown is polarized on this issue. Progressive Charlestown ran its first poll and with almost 50 votes cast, 70% oppose the Planning Commission's anti-wind stance. The Charlestown Democratic Town Committee has come out against Whalerock, specifically, but strongly favors a comprehensive alternative energy development plan for town. By contrast, the Charlestown Citizens Alliance opposes wind energy development, or any development for that matter.

We should be having a reasoned debate, based on hard facts and the good of the whole town, instead of radical polarization. Alternative energy is necessary and it will come, even to Charlestown.

Author: Will Collette