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605WVN #458: No wind power at Town Center/More free cash from surplus

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  • waylandvoters1
    Jun 29 10:11 AM
      Dear Wayland Voter,

      Stop & Shop has abandoned its plan to install wind power turbines at the Town Center.

      Also in this newsletter: The Wayland Finance Committee decided to send nearly $1 million in surplus funds to free cash rather than to a retirement account. Previous contributions to that account have raised questions.


      The Stop & Shop market going up at the Town center project was designed to include six wind turbines to generate electricity. They could be seen as a small but sincere step to demonstrate commitment to emerging green technology.

      Stop & Shop said the turbines would probably produce 1% of the facility's power. But recent state studies show that small wind turbines generally produce only about 30% of projected output. And that's in sites far more suited to wind power than a parking lot surrounded by buildings, far from the windy coast or mountaintops.

      But in the face of detailed concerns raised by citizens and board members, Stop & Shop withdrew its turbine application at a meeting of the Wayland Planning Board on June 26. By the morning of the last hearing session, the proposal had been scaled back from six wind vanes down to two demo units, which still did not make them a compliant use under existing zoning.

      Wayland residents had raised questions about legality, noise and engineering.

      "This application for installation of six wind turbines within the Town Center Mixed-Use Project is not a request that can be granted by the Wayland Planning Board under Wayland's current zoning scheme," wrote Anette Lewis, an attorney. Lewis followed that with ten paragraphs of fact and law in a public comment memo to the board on which she served as associate member when the mixed-use bylaw was written in 2005 and 2006.

      Six years ago, the developer objected to the board's vision to include green provisions in the bylaw. Had the wind vanes been approved without zoning in place, Lewis cautioned, "then facilities could be placed throughout town without standards or restrictions."

      An engineer and member of the Energy Initiatives Advisory Committee wrote: "The problem with the proposed windmills at Stop & Shop is simple – they won't work. But if they are marketed and publicized as though they do work, it will mislead many to believe that magic technologies are the solution to the most critical problem we face – heading off catastrophic climate change."

      Speaking only for himself, Tom Sciacca added, "Big windmills can work. Small ones can't...The unacceptably high cost and low return of small wind technology will prevent it from ever being a `customary part of the 21st century New England village,'" as claimed by the proponents."

      The proposed turbines would have had 11-foot vertical blades that rotate around a pole. But even at that size they might prove intolerably loud at close range, wrote Evelyn Wolfson. She cited news stories about lawsuits in several states complaining about turbine noise.

      One expert, Wolfson noted, recommended that large turbines -- say, those with 100-foot blades -- should be at least a mile and a quarter from dwellings. "I do understand the proposed turbines would be smaller, but does that mean noise free?" Wolfson asked. " Has anyone reviewed a similar installation to check them out?"

      In fact, no similar installation exists. The turbine supplier could point to only a single prototype in an industrial area in Salem alongside an active train track as a model. A recording made by a visiting Planning Board member is dominated by the noise of a passing train.

      "Our bylaws do not allow this to happen," Planning Director Sarkis Sarkisian told the Planning Board. "It's not a permitted use." Bylaws could be changed to permit turbines, he said.

      This is not Stop and Shop's first windmill initiative. In 2009 the company proposed a turbine in the 250-foot range at its store in Gloucester. A machine of that size in that location would probably have produced significant quantities of electricity. But neighbors immediately raised concerns about the overwhelming impact such a large turbine would have on their properties, and the proposal was quickly shot down on zoning grounds.

      A Stop & Shop representative said the Wayland building could still achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

      Sciacca's and Wolfson's full texts are at:
      Letters to the editor on wind turbines proposal in Wayland - Wayland, MA - Wicked Local Wayland http://www.wickedlocal.com/wayland/topstories/x1915462058/Letters-to-the-editor-on-wind-turbines-proposal-in-Wayland#ixzz1z2aEeXPX

      Lewis' comments are at:

      The Planning Board's June 26 hearing is available at WayCAM's Video on Demand archive:

      -- WVN Staff


      The Finance Committee agreed on June 25 to take no voted action on an end-of-fiscal-year surplus, thereby adding it to free cash. Free cash is frequently used to help balance the budget, in effect lowering property tax bills.

      The finance director estimated the excess to be between $950,000 and $985,000 from the Fiscal 2012 budget's line 32B (Unclassified) that includes retirement and health care benefits.

      The other option under consideration was to deposit some or all of the 32B surplus into the OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits) trust fund. Several citizens had said these unspent funds should flow to free cash and that Town Meeting voters should continue to decide specific contribution amounts for deposit into the OPEB trust fund.

      As the FinCom discussion unfolded, there was consensus among most members that the surplus should flow to free cash.

      That addition is expected to boost Wayland's free cash to about 9% of budget, above the committee's target of 7.5%. That realization prompted a strong reaction from FinCom member Tom Greenaway to the finance director, reminding him that the committee is trying to focus on the free cash percentage "like a laser beam" and he is "frustrated beyond belief."

      The committee spent some time probing Finance Director Michael DiPietro's disclosure of a variance of about $400,000 withheld in the 32B account that had something to do with summer payments. Five committee members asked different questions seeking to understand, among other things, why there was such a sizeable variance and where the money came from.

      Chairman Cherry Karlson said it was complicated and not easily explained immediately. DiPietro made several references to "trueing-up" the accounts. Bill Steinberg asked for an accounting of the 32B line item going back five years, that perhaps they have been overestimating medical costs each year.

      The audience also had difficulty following the discussion. One resident commented that it sounded like someone was "chewing up" the accounts.

      The Finance Committee welcomed public comment from the audience. Speakers urged the committee to allow the FY12 unspent appropriations to go to free cash, basically returning the surplus dollars to the taxpayers. One resident cautioned the FinCom not to assume there would be another town meeting "gold rush" by taxpayers (FinCom member Sam Peper's characterization of the November 2011 special town meeting) who do understand these end-of-fiscal-year monies will be needed to help offset the expected FY14 tax increase.

      The FinCom disclosed it had received an email from Town Administrator Fred Turkington who argued that the unspent 32B funds should go into the OPEB fund. He copied, but was not speaking on behalf of, the Board of Selectmen as he revealed his disdain for a town meeting outcome that he personally disagrees with:

      ".......there was considerable pressure brought by budget activists claiming the OPEB account is `overfunded'.......Town Meeting was persuaded on a narrow 220-198 vote to eliminate the ARC (annual recommended contribution) funding of $1,313,000 in FY2013......It was a pocketbook decision made without adequate information being provided by proponents. While feel-good votes are the prerogative of Town Meeting, the Finance Committee is charged with taking a longer-term view toward the fiscal well-being of the Town, and I urge you to discount arguments of some that making a FY2012 year-end transfer is in any way related to the decision of Town Meeting to eliminate funding in FY2013. Simply put, arguments that the OPEB trust is "overfunded" are false and the obligation can be set aside for future citizens to address are irresponsible."

      Meanwhile, as another fiscal year comes to a close, residents and officials still seek a clear explanation for how almost $10 million ended up in the OPEB trust fund. At the fall 2008 Special Town Meeting, voters supported article 10 calling for a Special Act of the State Legislature to create the OPEB trust fund, with the understanding that about $1 million per year would be deposited so the Town could plan to meet its obligations.

      During the FinCom's public comment, one resident asked where almost $3 million in overpayments to OPEB came from. One possibility is if the Unclassified line item has been over-budgeted for multiple years. Another resident asked that the overpayments already deposited be returned to taxpayers. Deposits into that trust are irrevocable.

      Someone has been depositing surplus dollars into the OPEB trust without signatures or known authorization. The FinCom said it will revisit OPEB issues and the need for more line items and greater transparency in the Unclassified budget during the summer. In FY13, the FinCom chairman will be Bill Steinberg and the vice-chairman will be Tom Greenaway.

      The meeting is available at WayCAM's Video on Demand archive:

      -- Linda Segal

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      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor