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Monday, July 1, 2013

Why the June 26 Whalerock hearing was suspended

Craven’s absence was only part of it
By Will Collette
Bring on the next expert witness. Cue the Power Point

The June 26 fourth episode in Charlestown’s summer dramatic series, the Whalerock wind farm special use permit application to the Zoning Board of Review (ZBR), lasted only a few minutes before it was adjourned until July 17.

ZBR Chair Mike Rzewuski gave the reason for the quick in-and-out as the absence of the ZBR’s town lawyer, Bob Craven. As Rzewuski explained, Craven was up at the State Capitol where, wearing another hat as State Representative for North Kingstown, Craven was voting on the state budget. Rzewuski said they needed Craven there.

I can certainly agree that the ZBR members need their legal counsel present, although Craven’s presence at the previous three hearings has not helped the ZBR members from making a mess of the Whalerock case that will aid Whalerock in its inevitable court appeal after the ZBR rejects Whalerock’s application for a special use permit.

Mancini wanted the hearing suspended
However, Rzewuski also made a muttered quick mention of a request from Charlestown’s new $50,000 Special Counsel on the Whalerock case, John O. Mancini. Mancini had filed a motion with the ZBR requesting that the June 26 hearing be suspended because Mancini was having trouble getting his lead witness to town. Mancini anticipated the completion of Whalerock’s presentation on June 26 and expected to begin presenting the town’s case on that same day.

Never mind that the issue of whether Mancini or the town even has a right to participate in the case remains unresolved. Or that under a standing order from Superior Judge Kristin Rodgers, Charlestown does not have standing. 

The town has asked Judge Rodgers to reconsider, saying that they have found a property abutting the Whalerock site that is up for tax forfeiture.

Despite the unresolved matter of whether the town even has a right to participate in these ZBR proceedings, Mancini’s “motion to suspend” was based on the inability of one of his five anticipated witnesses, Michael S. McCann, to fly from Chicago where he is based to Rhode Island due to bad storms rumbling through the Midwest. Read Mancini’s motion by clicking here.

Michael McCann (from his
LinkedIn page)
McCann is a favorite witness of anti-wind groups around the country. As a certified appraiser, McCann gives frequent testimony that argues that wind turbines cause serious and long-term damage to local property values. If you run a Google search using the search terms "michael s. mccann" & appraiser & wind, you’ll get hundreds of hits, including links to his reports. Click here for a recent report McCann gave to the House Ways & Means Committee.

Click here for another report, this time on a wind project proposed in upstate New York. Click here for another on a Cape Cod project.

I sampled several other reports by McCann. While I have no professional expertise on the art of appraisals, I was impressed that McCann does seem to tailor his findings to the area, rather than simply use a cookie-cutter approach. His reports seem to be well-presented and easy to read.

The property value issue strikes me as a more effective one than the spurious, semi-religious health arguments being presented by Bishop Ron Areglado and his Church of the Exploding Brains

Personally, I think it’s perfectly legitimate to resist a project that will hurt your home value. It’s also a lot more honest to say so, even though property values are based on subjective judgments – and in the case of wind turbines – at least a little bit of self-fulfilling prophecy. It's a lot more honest than going the fake science route.

You’ve probably observed that Aregledo’s cult has already given itself a scorching case of Wind Turbine Syndrome even before there’s any construction activity at the site.

Even Whalerock’s expert appraiser, Michael Lenihan of Westerly, agreed that local property values will probably take a hit, especially if you can see the turbines from the property and if Charlestown continues to be hysterical about turbines.

Whalerock's appraisal expert Michael Lenihan
Lenihan stated that in his forty years in real estate, he’s seen people reject (and sometimes seek out) properties because they were next to schools, fire stations, cell towers, even churches.

While Lenihan said he was convinced that any drop in property values from a new wind turbine project will be only short-term, measured in months or maybe even weeks, McCann is hardly as sanguine.

With increasing frequency, wind project developments are anticipating property value concerns and are offering compensation in advance. For example, the NK Green project near Wickford Junction is paying the owners of homes in the development around $130 a month. Result: no complaints. And, by the way, that turbine is a 427-foot peak height Vestas-100 which is taller than Whalerock.
The NK Green turbine near Wickford Junction

In the United Kingdom, British on-land wind farm developers are being encouraged to provide neighbors of these projects with cash benefits packages of up to £100,000 a year to a community that abuts the average sized wind farm.

British Energy Secretary Edward Davey told the BBC: "It is important that onshore wind is developed in a way that is truly sustainable - economically, environmentally and socially - and today's announcement will ensure that communities see the windfall from hosting developments near to them, not just the wind farm".

As in most cases of dueling experts, all testimony and reports should be weighed based on credentials, credibility and effectiveness of presentation. And every so often, you should make sure to make a loud noise to wake up the sleeping audience.

McCann is part of the growing circuit of traveling experts who have built a practice out of testifying against wind-to-energy projects. It will be fairly easy to challenge his testimony by noting this fact and the bias it implies.

Lenihan also testified as a paid expert witness so a similar argument can be made to impeach his testimony in favor of Whalerock. However, unlike McCann, Lenihan has not built his appraisal business on testifying on wind turbines.

And folks, that’s an example why I really hate it when a battle against a proposed undesirable land use devolves into “dueling experts.”

According to Mancini’s motion, he has four other expert witnesses he plans to present besides McCann. Presumably, Whalerock lawyer Nick Gorham will want to bring in rebuttal witnesses.

And then the opponents of the project – most likely every member of Areglado’s Church of the Exploding Brains – will want to testify.

Then the ZBR members will vote to reject the project. I say that with certainty, because ZBR Chair Rzewuski and ZBR member Ron Crosson have already made it plain that they will vote NO.

That's what he said - check the Clerkbase video (sorry, it's not indexed)
Indeed, member Crosson has actually given testimony against Whalerock even though, as a ZBR member, he is barred from doing that. He has sworn an oath to carry out his duties in a fair and impartial manner and giving opposition testimony seems to me to violate that oath. Since Whalerock loses if more than one ZBR member votes no, the matter is already settled.

The big question is whether the misconduct of Rzewuski and Crosson, as well as the town, will result in a Whalerock victory when developer Larry LeBlanc goes back to Superior Court.

But that’s a question that’s months away from an answer. In the meantime, this soap opera will continue.