Precinct 8 and 9 Town Meeting members addressed charter changes and the disposition of the wind turbines at their precinct meeting on Wednesday, October 30.
Town Manager Julian M. Suso is seeking $2.5 million to begin disposition of Falmouth’s two Vestas 1.65-megawatt, V-82 wind turbines with 80-meter-tall towers from the wastewater treatment plant site on Blacksmith Shop Road.
“This is the first step,” Mr. Suso said. “This is just dismantling and dropping the turbines down.”
He said the funding request is based on an estimate provided by consultant Weston & Sampson and has not been bid out.
Amy E. Leonardi, Precinct 8, questioned the price tag.
“I’m having trouble comparing it to a Maine project, where they took down 62 turbines for $6.7 million,” Ms. Leonardi said. “That was total cost, so I’m still trying to reconcile two turbines at $2.3 million.”
Mr. Suso said he was not aware of the Maine project and is confident in Weston & Sampson.
Another member asked how much the town owes on the two wind turbines. Mr. Suso said he will have that figure at Town Meeting, but estimated it is between $5 and $10 million.
“You’re never going to get that money back,” he said. “That train left the station when the judge ruled.”
Precinct members also heard presentations regarding several petitioners’ articles.
Jay Zavala, Precinct 8, and consultant Rennie Friedman of Sol Systems presented a petition article seeking to establish a large-scale ground mounted solar overlay district along Nathan Ellis Highway. The overlay district includes the Cape Cod Fairgrounds site.
If approved, the overlay district would allow for the Barnstable County Agricultural Society to proceed with a solar array project at the site. Most of the questions asked at the precinct meeting for precincts 8 and 9 related to this project, not the overlay district.
Precinct 9 Captain Peter J. Hargraves asked what sort of solar panels were being considered. Mr. Zavala said the project would exclusively use carports, which are overhead canopies built to cover parking lots. Solar panels sit atop each carport’s roof.
“There are no other options being considered at this time,” Mr. Zavala said.
Mr. Friedman said Town Meeting is only being asked to approve the solar overlay district. The proposed solar carport would need to go before the planning board for site plan approval.
C. Grant Walker, Precinct 3, is asking Town Meeting to adopt the Massachusetts Board of Building Regulations and Standards Stretch Code. The stretch energy code was previously rejected by before Town Meeting in 2011 and 2018.
Mr. Walker said there is not much difference between the base energy code and the stretch code. If adopted, the stretch code would only apply to new construction, not any additions or alterations. Any new homes constructed under the stretch code would require a Home Energy Rating System rating of 55.
Lynne A. Rhodes, Precinct 8, asked about the stretch code’s monetary impact. Mr. Walker said the average cost increase of building a home to the stretch energy cost is $3,000. This results in an approximately $100 increase to the down payment and a $10 increase in monthly mortgage payments. It is offset by by state grants and refunds, as well as average monthly energy savings of $41 to $42.
“You might spend $3,000, but you get half of that back on rebates and you’re going to save about $500 a year on your utility bills, so you’ll get that money back within three years,” Selectman Douglas C. Brown said.
Adopting the stretch energy is the final step required to designate Falmouth as a Massachusetts Green Community, making the town eligible for grants through that program.
Mr. Hargraves asked if anything had changed since the stretch code’s defeat at the April 2018 Town Meeting. Mr. Walker said nothing had, arguing that statements made at that town meeting suggested a more significant distance between the two energy codes. The difference between the two codes is the same today as it was then.
Sandra L. Faiman-Silva, Precinct 2, is asking Town Meeting to adopt a non-binding resolution to protect the civil rights and safety of all Falmouth residents and visitors by affirming the Falmouth Police Department’s policies as outlined in the department’s “Mission, Core Values and Vision Statement” and “A Message from the Police Chief Regarding the DHS-ICE Secure Communities Program.”
“It asks the town to affirm Falmouth’s current policy regarding immigration protection,” Ms. Faiman-Silva said. “It helps to ensure the safety and generous spirit of Falmouth.”
She noted the article affirms existing policy. Nothing in the article requires Falmouth to violate federal law.
Mr. Hargraves said he supports the spirit of the article, and asked if Town Counsel Frank K. Duffy had taken a look at it. Ms. Faiman-Silva said it has been reviewed by Mr. Duffy, and she will introduce amendments at Town Meeting to declared it a non-binding resolution that does not direct or control the actions of the Falmouth police department or any town polices and procedures.
“How will this change anything?” asked Margaret A. Finnell, Precinct 8.
Ms. Faiman-Silva said the affirmation changes the climate in Falmouth for those fearful of law enforcement.
“This will affirm that we recognize all people who walk in our community, who come to our community have rights which are fundamental,” she said.
Kevin Casey and Allan Wilson presented a petition article seeking to lease John DeMello Senior Center at 300 Dillingham Avenue to the Falmouth Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #2569 for use as a veterans service center.
“This is a whole new approach to what we are trying to do with veterans,” Mr. Wilson said. “It is focused on three things: unity and bringing veterans all together, a home where veterans can come and then fostering a productive and healthy life.”
Mary Harris, Precinct 5, asked if any other non-profits in town have expressed interest in leasing the building. The article asks the town to lease it for $1 per year for five years. Town Manager Julian M. Suso said the town has not examined that.
Leslie R. Lichtenstein, Precinct 8, asked if the VFW would be able to maintain the building if they move it. Mr. Wilson said they have financing to cover the first year of operation.
“We’re very confident we have the funding,” he said.
Ms. Leonardi asked how many veterans they expect to serve. Mr. Wilson noted they have run the Joe Q. Veteran Coffee Break since 2016 and see high attendance at that. He expects they would serve hundreds of veterans in the first quarter.
While it is not a petition article, Karen L. Bissonnette, executive director of the Falmouth Housing Trust, advocated for renovating an abandoned house on Williams Hollows Way for the purpose of affordable housing. The less than 1,000 square feet house is located 0.15 miles from Sam Turner Road.
Several Town Meeting members questioned the plan, noting the 88-acre parcel was purchased by the town in 1987 for water resource protection.
“This is the camel’s nose,” Ms. Lichtenstein said. “We cut off an acre here, and then another year, we cut off another acre there, and then another year, we cut off another acre there. This was bought as a well site, for water protection.”
Ms. Bissonnette noted that the parcel was purchased for water resource protection or municipal purposes. Joseph A. Netto, Precinct 9, said everything the town purchases is listed as being purchased for municipal use. Town Manager Julian M. Suso said the phrase was used “as a catch all.”
Mr. Netto questioned how housing would be considered a municipal use. He also noted the nature of the purchase.
“When we bought the land at Town Meeting in 1987, it was stressed that it was an unoccupied house, and we appropriated money to tear it down,” he said.
The 11 proposed charter changes also prompted discussion on Wednesday night. Mr. Netto asked if charter review committee chairman Peter L. Clark intended to hold the articles for discussion at Town Meeting. Mr. Clark said he did not intend to do this, but would be on hand to answer any charter related questions at Town Meeting.
“I’ll do it, I’m telling you right now,” Mr. Netto said. “I think we deserve that, an explanation of every one of these and what the consequences are. We’re not going to do this in two nights.”
Mr. Clark said he will discuss the it further with Moderator David T. Vieira.
They also discussed the charter change that puts the finance committee under the charter. Finance Committee member Nicholas S. Lowell said the finance committee will propose an amendment to this change.
The amendment adds eight words to the charter change, specifically noting the finance committee “shall consider any or all municipal questions and” when making recommendations to Town Meeting. Mr. Lowell said this language is consistent with state law.
Mr. Clark noted that while the change makes sense, the charter does not have to include all of the language listed in state law. The finance committee would still have that power whether or not the language is added to the charter, as the charter does not supersede state law.
Mr. Hargraves noted another proposed charter change, changes the words committee, council and board to “government body” or “governmental bodies.” He asked if this change would apply to the proposed charter language stating “members of the Finance Committee my serve on advisory boards in a non-voting capacity.”
Mr. Clark said if both charter changes are approved, the language would change to state finance committee members may serve on government bodies rather than boards.
His said this change would clarify existing policy. It would still be up to the board of selectmen to appoint members to these governmental bodies, and they may prefer a voting member to a non-voting member.
“I like what you just said, if we vote Article 24, this would change the wording of this to ‘may serve on governmental bodies in a non-voting capacity’ because then I think it opens it up for finance committee members who have energy to do other things to do those things, but to recognize they will avoid any conflict by being a non-voting member,” Mr. Hargraves said.
Ms. Harris questioned this assertion, asking if “advisory boards” or just the word “boards” would be replaced by “governmental bodies.” Mr. Hargraves said his interpretation was “advisory boards,” but the matter could be discussed further at Town Meeting.
Mr. Clark also clarified Article 32, which seeks to remove beach committee, human services committee, recreation committee and waterways committee from the charter. He said these four committees will continue to exist regardless of their inclusion in the charter. The proposed change does not eliminate any of their responsibilities.
Other topics discussed included the purchase of electric cars, optioning land for a new Falmouth fire station, new staff at the Falmouth Senior Center, the potential purchase or lease of the Bank of America parking lot for municipal parking and coastal resiliency projects.
Falmouth Town Meeting is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, November 12.