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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Larry LeBlanc wants action on Whalerock wind farm

Whalerock seeks “expeditious decision” from the court

Larry LeBlanc's lawyer, Nick Gorham, is
pushing  for a decision in the case
By Will Collette

Developer Larry LeBlanc continues to press his proposal to build industrial-sized wind turbines on the moraine along the north side of Route 1 near King’s Factory Road.

A year ago, all of the parties, including the town of Charlestown, in all of the various lawsuits which were rolled into one big suit, signed an agreement to file all their various motions and memoranda to permit the judge to then make a ruling in this case.

But a full year passed, and still no decision, so LeBlanc, through his lawyer Nick Gorham filed a “Motion for Expeditious Resolution of All Claims” on May 8. 

The section marked "subject parcel" is LarryLand, the proposed site of the wind turbines
The motion argues that the delay unfairly harms Whalerock since the tax credits and other subsidies are time-sensitive. Gorham notes that the wind energy credits essential to the Whalerock project require “substantial construction under way prior to December 31, 2012.”

Gorham continues, “Even if the Court decision is favorable to Whalerock in every respect, it is necessary that Whalerock return to the Zoning Board for approval of its project.”

And, as Gorham points out, returning to the Zoning Board for approval will entail public notice, scheduling, hearings and more. This makes the odds of launching “substantial construction prior to December 31, 2012” very challenging.

But I continue to doubt that LeBlanc’s real intent is to build Whalerock. Indeed, if Leblanc suddenly found all the obstacles removed from his path, he would still have one very big problem with Whalerock – the US Department of Energy wind maps say there isn’t enough wind in that location to make the project practical.

Even with tax credits and subsidies, LeBlanc would also need to raise a lot of capital. He is, by most accounts, a very rich man, but he also has so many irons in the fire (e.g. his planned RV resort in Westerly) that even he might not have the ready capital to make Whalerock go.

New wind measurements along the Rhode Island coastline are still on-going, helped in part by the MET (meteorological) Tower in Ninigret Park. However, I doubt any new numbers will come out soon enough to help. They are not likely to change the technical feasibility or the financial viability of Whalerock or make it any easier to raise capital.

With just the existing DOE maps and data, Curt Schilling might have a better chance at getting a new loan.

But there are a number of issues in the Whalerock litigation, besides whether or not LeBlanc will get another shot at getting a Whalerock permit.

LeBlanc has argued the Charlestown Planning Commission is illegitimate because it is elected, not appointed, as required by state law. Charlestown is the only one of Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns that still elects its planning board.

Clipping Planning Commissar Platner's power
is one possible outcome
LeBlanc also argues the Planning Commission exceeded its powers under the Town Charter by acting as a regulatory body over matters where it had no jurisdiction. That is a familiar argument, one that many Charlestown businesses and property owners have made.

Part of the Court’s ultimate decision, aside from the fate of the Whalerock project, might be to direct Charlestown to drastically alter the nature and scope of authority of the Planning Commission.

For that reason alone, I thought the town might want to seek a settlement since the CCA spent years turning the Planning Commission into a second law-making and law-enforcing body in Charlestown, despite what it says in the Town Charter.

I think the best resolution for the citizens of Charlestown and all the parties to the lawsuits is for a deal, one done at a fair and reasonable price, where Charlestown buys the 81 acre Whalerock site from LeBlanc as open space.

We now have the $475,000 we were going take out of petty cash (the town budget surplus) to waste on Y-Gate and $2 million in a voter-approved Open Space/Recreation bond. Unlike the Y-Gate parcel, Larry’s Land is actually open space. It's three times bigger and not hemmed in by residential neighborhoods. And it isn't covered by a trashed-out campground.

LeBlanc's land is strategically located right along Route 1, officially designated as a "scenic highway," and just about everyone who passes through or visits Charlestown passes right by that land.

Buying that property at a reasonable price would also end the stream of undesirable projects LeBlanc has pitched over the years. It would remove the CCA’s fear that LeBlanc might sell the land to the Narragansetts who might then somehow figure out a way to put a casino on the land.

Last year, his opening offer to the town was $3 million. The town’s opening offer, pushed by Deputy Dan Slattery, was less than $1 million. Rather than accept that this is how negotiations start, the town decided that, well, screw it, if LeBlanc isn’t willing to come down to our price, then faggedaboudit. That Deputy Dan is a helluva negotiator. No wonder LeBlanc has become more pugnacious with his litigation.

LeBlanc paid a little more than $1 million for the land and then spent a small fortune on experts and lawyers to put together a variety of proposals for the land. There's a number somewhere between $800,000 and $3 million where a deal can be struck in the public interest. 

Click here to read Whalerock’s recent court filing.