Spurred by neighbors’ concerns, Chilmark selectmen Tuesday agreed to hire a consultant to examine if two farms located off South Road that received permits for large-scale wind turbines qualify under a state exemption from local review.
Neighbors have asked the zoning board of appeals a review a decision by Chilmark building inspector Lenny Jason to grant the permits, one to Grey Barn Farm and the other to Allen Farm, both on South Road.
Mr. Jason granted the permits earlier this year under an agricultural exemption in the Massachusetts General Law, which provides that town zoning bylaws may not “prohibit, unreasonably regulate or require a special permit” for a turbine, provided they are used for the primary purpose of commercial agriculture.
Because of this exemption, the town’s zoning board of appeals did not review the turbine proposals. The zoning board would ordinarily have the authority to grant special permits for such structures. Both turbines also fell under the 150-foot threshold for a review by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission as a development of regional impact (DRI).
The ZBA has scheduled a public hearing at 5 pm, January 19 to act on two petitions neighbors filed that question the determination that both projects qualify for the commercial agriculture use exemption. The petitions also ask the ZBA to consider referring both projects for review by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) as developments of regional impact.
The permits were issued to Clarissa Allen of Allen Farm, which overlooks a meadow where sheep often graze and Chilmark upper pond, and Eric Glasgow of Grey Barn Farm, the former Rainbow Farm property. No turbines have been built, but the Allen Farm did erect a test tower last summer.
Petitioners seek review
A series of letters to selectmen, petitioning for a hearing, highlight the neigbors concerns.
“These are big projects with far reaching consequences and impacts,” Thomas J. Ashe of 2 Sheep’s Crossing and Placitas, New Mexico wrote. “While we recognize the good motives that underlay the applications, we strongly believe that such large projects with so many impacts need to have public input and discussion.”
A petition with the signatures of four people who own the same property at 58 Eddy Farm Road – Jane Schlesinger, Todd Brummett, Mary DePasqualae and Jonathon Eddie Adler — said, “If the building inspector is right and the town can’t review pursuant to Chapter 40 A, then the MVC must oversee a process whereby community concerns can be discussed and adressed. Had these 147.5-foot projects been submitted at their manufacture’s stated height of 150.9 feet, they would have triggered a mandatory MVC review.” The Eddy Farm abuts the Allen Farm.
In response to the concerns, executive secretary Tim Carroll requested a legal opinion from town attorney Eric Wodlinger.
Mr. Wodlinger responded with two legal opinions. He advised that an applicant can only receive the agricultural exemption if it can prove that they will use a majority of the electricity generated by the turbines for the purpose of commercial farming.
“I have spoken with several other town counsels of my acquaintance and with Robert Ritchie, now general counsel to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources,” Mr. Wodlinger wrote in a December 17 opinion.
“Both the other counsel and Mr. Ritchie concurred with a common sense reading of the statute in the context of wind power, that 51 [percent]or more of the electricity expected to be generated by the wind turbine should be devoted to agricultural purposes of the town.”
After receiving this information, zoning board administrator Chuck Hodgkinson wrote to the selectmen to ask permission to hire an outside consultant to help determine whether the two farms will, in fact, use a majority of the electricity produced by the turbines for farming.
Mr. Hodgkinson asked selectmen to authorize him to hire the consulting firm of TKE and Barnes Inc. at a cost of $7,200. The firm will help the zoning board determine if the wind turbines meet technical requirements, gather data, and produce a report before the January 19 hearing.
Tuesday night selectmen approved Mr. Hodgkinson’s request, following a lengthy discussion which included comments from Ms. Allen, who questioned why the town should spend $7,200 to hire a consultant, when she could provide the data herself.
“The information is clearly there in the letter [from town counsel]; we have to use 51 per cent. I think you have extremely good legal counsel who you pay a significant amount of money, and I don’t think you should disregard what they are saying,” she said.
But selectmen said they were only taking steps to allow the zoning board to make an informed decision. “They need that information to be able to make a fair judgment, and we want them to be able to do that for everybody’s sake,” selectman Frank Fenner said.
“It seems expensive to me,” Ms. Allen answered.
Although Ms. Allen said she was willing to provide information to the private consultant, she noted she was not given a lot of time.
“I have other things going on in my life other than turbines. I’m not in a position to say when I get this information to you,” she said.
Plans move forward
In a story published on June 24, 2010, “Blowin’ in the wind turbine: farms assess wind power,” Mitch Posin, husband of Clarissa Allen, discussed the couple’s plans for one of the Island’s most scenic properties.
The couple received a $41,000 grant from the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust and a $10,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to conduct a feasibility study that included erecting a meteorological tower that measures wind speed, direction, and air temperature, to determine if wind power is feasible at Allen Farm.
At the time, Mr. Posin said that all data was positive. Mr. Posin told The Times his dream is to generate enough power so that he can sell it to other area farms. Schools might be offered power at a discount rate, if they buy food from the farms, he said.
In a story published on August 25, 2010, “Stimulus funds help sprout Grey Barn Farm solar,” owners Eric and Molly Glasgow described their project to create an organic boutique farm, powered in part by the sun. The business will specialize in producing and selling homegrown high-end dairy products that will include milk, yoghurt, and cheese.
In a grant application used to obtain funds to buy solar panels, Mr. Glasgow, a former London-based international oil trader, said the solar system is a key component, “along with solar hot water and a wind turbine, of our overall goal of being a net zero energy enterprise.”
In an interview, Mr. Glasgow said that although the grant application referenced power generated by wind turbines and the couple had explored that option, it was not currently under consideration.
“We really need to see how much power our operation ultimately uses,” he said at the time. “We certainly like the idea of being at net zero energy.”
The first wind turbine raised under the agricultural exemption was erected in June at Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown.