MV Times, on November 12th, 2009

Wind regs top Aquinnah special town meeting warrant

Aquinnah voters will be asked to take action on a slate of new zoning regulations governing wind turbines and a proposal to lower the quorum when they gather for a special town meeting set to begin at 7 pm next Tuesday in the old town hall.

The warrant could move some voters to quote Yogi Berra, famed Yankees manager, and declare it “a case of déjà vu all over again.”

In 2008, beginning with the annual town meeting in May and followed by special town meetings, the planning board and supporters of comprehensive energy bylaws made five failed attempts to gain voter approval for a wind energy district of critical planning concern (DCPC) for Aquinnah.

The article voters will take up next week is a request to change the town’s zoning bylaws.

“We have been working hard to accommodate folks who had a problem with it last year,” Ms. Rose said.

Selectman Spencer Booker, in a conversation yesterday, said town action on the zoning changes “are more important than ever, considering what the state is planning right off our shores. It’s time for us to have something down on paper.”

Reduce fossil fuels

The stated goals and priorities of the new bylaws as written are: “to reduce the overall consumption of fossil fuels through energy conservation and the local generation of energy from renewable sources while minimizing any negative impact on residents and visitors and while preserving and protecting the cultural and natural environment of the town as delineated in the Goals of the Town of Aquinnah District of Critical Planning Concern.” The planning board would be authorized to grant a special permit for a wind turbine, provided it is an accessory to a residential or commercial use. However, a communal wind energy generating facility could be located on a vacant lot without a primary use.

The bylaw provides for three categories of wind energy generating facilities: private single owner, communal, and municipal.

Special requirements would apply to the Moshup Trail and Cliffs DCPC and land within 1,000 feet of the coastline.

The bylaw also addresses community wind and commercial wind energy generating facilities in the ocean waters of Aquinnah. It states, “They shall be comparable, at a minimum, with siting standards in the final Ocean Management Plan and with those developed by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

The new bylaws would not apply to the lands of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). Those lands would only be subject to the town bylaws in effect at the time of the settlement act in 1983 that ended a long-running legal battle and paved the way for federal recognition of the Tribe.

But since the town bylaws at the time did not allow for any structures of the height required for a wind turbine, the tribe would need to seek a variance, Ms. Rose said.

More than one year ago the tribe erected a 164-foot meteorological tower in order to determine if a site located on tribal land is optimal for electricity-producing wind turbines. According to a project grant application, the Tribe is exploring the feasibility of wind turbines ranging from 850 kilowatts to 2.1 megawatts in size.

Voters no show

There is more to the special town meeting than wind power. Voters will also be asked to revisit the question of reducing the quorum from 10 percent of all registered voters to five percent.

Mr. Booker said he is entertaining the idea of a reduced quorum requirement, “but I’d like to see what the voters think of it.” If approved, a mere 20 voters would be able to conduct town business.

Ms. Rose said the warrant includes a number of important transfers and money matters that must be attended to in order to balance the town’s books. She said that although revenues are down, the town is in relatively good shape.

Money articles include a request to appropriate $115,000 in existing community preservation funds to purchase an improved 1.1-acre parcel of land for the purpose of creating community housing; $4,600 from the community preservation fund to bury and remove overhead wires at the Aquinnah Circle; $100,000 to repair the town offices building.

Selectman Jim Newman said yesterday that he supports both the proposed wind bylaw and the reduction of quorum requirements. “I support both,” he said. “We need wind bylaws on the books that are viable, and the proposed bylaws are quite viable, and good. And we need to lower the quorum requirement. We need to get town business done.”

by Nelson Sigelman

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