MV Times, on November 12th, 2009

Islanders press for local say in Oceans Act

Ian Bowles, Secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEA), will meet tomorrow in Boston with a delegation of Island officials to discuss their concerns about provisions of the Oceans Act plan. They will press Mr. Bowles for local control of wind development in Vineyard waters. The meeting will convene at the EOEA offices at 100 Cambridge Street, at 1 pm.

State Sen. Robert O’Leary and state Rep. Timothy Madden have described themselves as negotiating with Mr. Bowles on behalf of Vineyard interests and particularly the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, which wants meaningful control over developments in waters near the Vineyard. In an interview with The Times published on October 22 (“Sec. Bowles would calm Oceans Act tempest”), Mr. Bowles spoke in reassuring terms about how the act would affect the Vineyard, but declined to offer the Martha’s Vineyard Commission final approval authority over such plans.

Legislators say talks succeeded

Mr. O’Leary and Mr. Madden, rushing for the ferry after meeting yesterday afternoon with the Island delegation to the Bowles meeting on Friday, said they were pleased with the results of their discussions with the secretary. They said the commitments Mr. Bowles has made to alter the draft Oceans Act plan granted Islanders and the MVC the local control they asked for. But, they added, it is only a short-term resolution.

The two legislators meant that the local control with which Mr. Bowles agrees must now be made an explicit part of the Ocean Act itself. That means amending the act in the state legislature, an effort always fraught with unforeseen possibilities. Mr. Madden said that Mr. Bowles has agreed not to object to such an amendment.

The changes in the plan, both legislators agreed, do not extend MVC regulatory authority to Gosnold, a Dukes County town that is a part of the MVC for planning purposes but not for regulatory matters. So, MVC authority would not extend to the wind energy site identified in the Ocean Act plan west of Cuttyhunk.

Both legislators said they thought the changes were well received by most of the Island officials who met with them yesterday, though they said there were members of the Island delegation to the Bowles meeting Friday who remain unconvinced.

Secretary says Islanders have got what they wanted

Yesterday, Mr. Bowles described his discussions with the legislators as a “good faith negotiation,” and he took note of the extensive comment he’s had from Islanders generally and from the MVC, which participated in the state planning that resulted in the draft Ocean Act plan.

Mr. Bowles said that his commitment would give the MVC and the towns the power to decide the scope of wind developments near shore and then to review a project to determine if it met the standards set by the MVC. He excluded commercial energy developments designed to produce more than 100 megawatts of power. These would be the permitting responsibility of the state’s energy installations siting board. He said that the state plan would “delegate power” to the MVC to govern the review of plans under the 100 megawatt threshold.

“If they don’t want something over 100 megawatts, that’s it,” Mr. Bowles said. The state, he added, will rely on the MVC to make those determinations. “They [the legislators] were asking for local control, and we’re giving it.”

Of the meeting Friday, Mr. Bowles said he expected that he and the Vineyard delegation would address positively any remaining issues.

The secretary’s commitments

In a November 10 letter to state Sen. Robert O’Leary and state Rep. Timothy Madden, Mr. Bowles set out what he called “the commitments I am making to you in terms of the provisions I will include in the final plan.”

Concerning commercial wind and regional planning agencies, Mr. Bowles described his commitment this way: “The final Ocean Plan will state that regional planning authorities with regulatory authority shall define the appropriate scale of any renewable energy project located within waters of those municipalities that are presently subject to the jurisdiction of such regional planning authorities.”

And, about community wind and regional planning agencies, the secretary wrote: “In addition, the final Ocean Plan will state that within the multi-use area, in which community wind projects are allowed under the current Ocean Plan draft, regional planning agencies with regulatory authority shall define the appropriate scale of any renewable energy project located within waters of those municipalities that are presently subject to the jurisdiction of such regional planning authorities.”

Mr. Bowles also acknowledged his agreement that at least 50 percent of funds extracted from developers – to mitigate damage to the environment, for instance – would “flow through municipal control.” But, he also acknowledged that some mitigation, for instance in the marine environment, might be better handled by the state or federal government.

State Rep. Tim Madden arranged tomorrow’s meeting, according to Lisa Capone, EOEA spokesman. Representatives of each of the six Island boards of selectmen, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, Dukes County Commission, and Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) are to attend.

MVC acts to declare DCPC control

On November 5, in an effort to regulate offshore commercial wind turbine developments in local waters, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) voted to designate an Island Wind District, Oceans Zone, as a district of critical planning concern (DCPC).

The area designated as a DCPC includes the airspace 220 feet above mean sea level over all ocean waters within Dukes County, from the mean low water line seaward to the federal waters boundary.

The MVC also agreed to accept for consideration a DCPC nomination for an Island Wind District, Land Zone. The area nominated as a DCPC included airspace 220 feet above all lands and inland waters within Dukes County, except the Elizabeth Islands, the Indian Common Lands, and the settlement lands, from the mean low water line landward.

However, in response to concerns raised about proposed wind turbine projects in the planning stages at the Edgartown Wastewater Facility and the West Tisbury School grounds, the MVC agreed to amend the DCPC designation to airspace above 150 feet and to exclude all school property and the town of Edgartown.

Ocean Zone DCPC public hearing

The November 5 meeting, held at the West Tisbury Public Safety building, began with the ocean zone DCPC public hearing, attended by about 15 people.

After about an hour of public testimony, midway through the almost two-hour hearing, Doug Sederholm, MVC member from Chilmark. reminded everyone of its purpose. “We’re talking about creating a legal framework so that any development that occurs is appropriate, and that’s all we can do right now,” he said. “If you want to stand up and say no wind turbines off Martha’s Vineyard, speaking politically, that is a dead route.”

Although the commissioners discussed possibly amending the DCPC’s 220-foot designated boundary, Jo-Ann Taylor, the MVC’s DCPC coordinator, said that since the public hearing notice had advertised that boundary, changing it would require another public hearing. Instead, the commissioners decided the issues could be resolved in formulating the DCPC guidelines and voted unanimously to accept the designation as defined.

The vote to designate the critical district triggered a moratorium of up to one year on projects over 220 feet tall in Island waters. During that year, towns will propose regulations for the new district, in conformance with the MVC’s guidelines for development.

After a public hearing, if the towns’ regulations are found in conformance, the MVC will vote to approve them. Then the regulations must be approved by a two-thirds majority at town meetings, which ends the building moratorium.

Land Zone DCPC nomination

After the public hearing, commissioners considered the land zone DCPC nomination.

The MVC had received letters from the Edgartown selectmen and from Superintendent of Schools James Weiss on behalf of the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD).

A feasibility study is almost complete for a proposed 218-foot wind turbine on the West Tisbury School grounds, Mr. Weiss’s letter said, and a building moratorium could affect state funding for its construction.

Edgartown’s proposed 328-foot tall wind turbine at the town’s Wastewater Facility also would be affected by a building moratorium. In a letter dated September 29, Edgartown selectmen Michael Donaroma, Margaret Serpa, and Arthur Smadbeck said they saw no need for the MVC to designate their town as a DCPC to guard against large commercial scale wind turbines, as the town already has bylaws that address local windmills.

In a strongly worded follow-up letter dated October 13, Edgartown selectmen again requested that the MVC not designate Edgartown a DCPC. “We do not take the DCPC process lightly and we do not see it as a substitute for a sound town regulatory process,” they wrote.

The selectmen also questioned whether some MVC members favor an Island-wide DCPC in order to implement the Island Plan, the commission’s blueprint for development and change for the next 50 years.

“It is unfortunate that the Island’s uniting on issues surrounding the Ocean Management Plan is being lost in an attempt to tack on DCPCs that have no bearing on the Ocean Management Plan,” they wrote.

The Edgartown selectmen’s comments provoked a prickly response from Tisbury commissioner Ned Orleans, who deemed it “one of the snottiest letters I’ve ever read.”

Mr. Sederholm said he was concerned that Edgartown wanted to exempt itself from the DCPC process that the other five towns wanted for the entire Island.

Although the MVC’s enabling legislation authorizes it to create a DCPC for all six towns, Ms. Sibley cautioned that the last time the commission pushed the issue, “two towns took a walk. I don’t think we can disrespect two towns this way. Ever since then, we’ve carefully used the DCPC process. We have not in the last 30 years imposed a DCPC on a town that didn’t want it.”

The commissioners, with the exception of Holly Stephenson of Tisbury, voted to approve an amendment to exclude Edgartown from the DCPC. After a lengthy discussion about the 220-foot high boundary designation, Mr. Sederholm made a motion to change the DCPC designation to 150 feet and to exclude all school property, so the UIRSD wind turbine project would not be affected.

The commissioners voted in favor of Mr. Sederholm’s amendment and also approved the land zone DCPC nomination for consideration. Ms. Stephenson abstained on both. A public hearing on the proposed DCPC will be held on December 10.

by Janet Hefler

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