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Special Editorial: Turbine response shows how important it is to be informed

December 24, 2010

Perhaps more so than the debate over the sheer size of a proposed 427-foot wind turbine in Stamp Farm on South County Trail, and maybe even more so than the safety concerns of its placement in a residential neighborhood and/or the effects such a structure will have on local property values, it seems as if many of the local residents who have recently spoken out against this project have all had one central complaint.
Their complaint, it seems, is that the changes to the town’s ordinance are moving too fast and that they weren’t informed soon enough and/or allowed to speak their mind.
Unfortunately, this is simply not true.
Politics aside, it doesn’t matter if you are for this ordinance or against this ordinance. Both sides have valid points and that discussion is best saved for another day.
But to say that this issue is somehow “news” to local residents, in the traditional sense of the word, fails to take into account how this topic has been discussed, at length, in a variety of town meetings, in both of the two local newspapers covering this town and in various other media outlets throughout the state.
If nothing else, this whole debate should be a lesson in how important it is to stay informed about what is happening in your town.
During last week’s North Kingstown Town Council meeting, local resident Jeff Zucchi, one of the leading voices of opposition on the proposed wind turbines, stated that the residents of this town “never had a chance to talk about this” and, acknowledged that he knows “it’s late, but we’re here now.”
Ultimately, that excuse does not fly.
In matters of government, especially at the local local, it is not only imperative of citizens to actively participate in the crafting of rules, laws and ordinances, it’s a duty.
And, if nothing else, those who chose not to participate should, at least, stay informed of the issues that will directly affect their lives, whether that be by reading newspaper articles, browsing through web site clippings or by going online to the town’s web site for a quick recap of the latest meeting’s minutes.
In the past four months, there have been numerous discussions in this very newspaper about this very topic.
In fact, in issues dating as far back as April 3, 2008, the ideas of alternative energy and wind turbines have been presented and their possible affect on our town has been considered, pondered over, debated and discussed in just about every way possible.
In a Letter to the Editor in the August 12 issue of the Standard Times, then-General Assembly candidate Richard Welch talked about the benefits of land-based wind turbines and stated that “Soon the North Kingstown School Committee and town council will be asking you to support a wind generator near the high school”.
Six weeks later, reporter Lindsay Olivier’s front-page story, entitled “Turbine talks continue in N. Kingstown” examined the results of a feasibility study conducted by Applied Science Associates which indicated that “although erecting a wind turbine on town-owned property at the landfill might be more expensive than constructing one on town property, the former option would also generate more energy”.
One week after that, on September 30, the Standard Times featured a front-page , above the fold story that reported on the fact that the town council had unanimously approved an amendment to town zoning ordinances that will guide the future development of Wind Energy Systems.
An editorial on the matter ran in this very space in that very issue.
In fact, in an October 7 Letter to the Editor, resident Matt Richardson brought up many of the same questions others are raising now.
Richardson stated that he was concerned about the new ordinance because it did not restrict the maximum height for large turbines, said he was worried because its required setbacks were only 60 percent of the height of the structure and felt it was worrisome that applicants “will no longer be required to obtain a special use permit to install a wind turbine”.
Now, two full months later, locals most directly affected by this issue are waking up and realizing that they probably should have paid attention to the debates and discussions when they had the chance.
The sad truth is that it may be too little, too late.
Whether or not the proposed Stamp Farm wind turbine should be approved is another matter for another day.
But right now, as we prepare to enjoy our holiday weekend, it’s important to remember all the gifts we’re afforded as a free society, the most important of which is the ability to have an actual say in how how town, state and country are run.
It’s a gift we shouldn’t take for granted.
In conclusion, while the Standard Times appreciates the passion of local residents on this issue and ultimately hopes that both sides have a fair chance to state their case on the matter at hand, it would have been nice to see such passion when the changes to the town’s ordinance were first being proposed, not only now that real projects are beginning to come together.
Because if you don’t speak up about the most important issues going on in your town, how can you complain that your voice is not being heard?

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