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After vote, wind project uncertain

By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / June 2, 2011

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WAREHAM — A recent Town Meeting decision to repeal Wareham’s five-year-old wind energy bylaw will block new proposals from being put on the table for the foreseeable future, but the town’s lawyers are still considering whether the action will have any effect on a turbine plan already before the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Some residents have been fighting the industrial wind project, called Bog Wind, for the last nine months, and the repeal was a result of that battle, presented via a citizens’ petition by former selectwoman Brenda Eckstrom.

Bog Wind blew into town last summer as a proposal for eight industrial wind turbines, nearly 500 feet tall, the largest yet proposed in the state, to be placed across a series of cranberry bogs. Residents in the siting area have been fighting the initiative at Zoning Board hearings. They formed a citizens’ action group, Wareham Residents Opposed to Bog Wind, attracting more than 100 members. And they hired lawyers to represent abutters.

Their efforts have had an impact.

Project proponent Glen Berkowitz, president of Beaufort Wind Power of Boston, initially reduced the number of turbines to six and a month ago trimmed the project to two turbines, which would be 100 feet smaller than those in the original plan.

“Much new information came to light on the best way to site wind turbines, and some of that we learned from residents,’’ Berkowitz said. “Although we realized our project was a good project, we realized it wasn’t good enough, after listening to neighbors.’’

Berkowitz said that due to their location, the two turbines now on the table will have little noise and light-shadow effect, known as flicker, caused by the whirling blades. The closest residence would be nearly 2,800 feet away, double the distance of the previously proposed locations.

“We decided to use the strictest guidelines out there to revise our project, so we used the guidelines recently enacted by the Cape Cod Commission,’’ said Berkowitz. “No matter what side of the wind conversation you’re on, both sides would agree those are the strictest guidelines in Massachusetts.’’

The commission’s guidelines lay out minimum performance standards for review of land-based wind turbines.

Despite Berkowitz’s adjustments, Town Meeting voters overwhelmingly approved the citizens’ petition calling for the bylaw’s repeal. The article established a committee to study the local ramifications of wind energy for the next year, but stipulated that the committee is not charged with drafting a new wind bylaw.

Selectwoman Ellen Begley said that homeowners in Bog Wind’s proposed siting area have fought a tough fight over the past year and that their pleas to repeal the bylaw resonated with Town Meeting attendees.

“The reaction from voters was heartfelt,’’ Begley said. “Those people had attended the hearings and done hundreds of hours of research. They were saying, ‘We need to think this through,’ and voters agreed.’’

Meanwhile, the Zoning Board accepted the revised plan for Bog Wind at its meeting last month, two weeks before the Town Meeting vote. The Zoning Board will continue discussion of the new plan for two smaller wind turbines next Wednesday, but members hope to get some legal advice first, in light of the town vote.

“We’re waiting for the opinion of our attorney, Jonathan Witten, as to whether the project is still on the table, now that the bylaw is repealed,’’ said Zoning Board chairman Kenneth Ferreira. “Unless certain actions are taken to freeze a project, it would not be grandfathered.’’

Witten did not return a call for comment.

Wareham town counsel Rich Bowen told Town Meeting voters, following their vote, that, in his opinion, Bog Wind would be grandfathered. But Ferreira said that Witten is an expert in land use and may have a different opinion from Bowen’s.

“Attorney Bowen gave that opinion under the pressure of Town Meeting,’’ Ferreira said.

Wareham resident Barry Cosgrove said that grandfathering is folklore and is commonly misunderstood.

“If the attorney general’s office approves the bylaw revocation, the application has no rights,’’ said Cosgrove, an outspoken wind project opponent. “Our view is it would be an inefficient use of time to continue hearings on the project.’’

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.