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Groups challenge local wind project

Six local environmental groups have voiced concerns about a plan to construct a wind turbine at Black Point, a coastal site in Narragansett that is protected for public use.

The organizations last week sent a letter to Gov. Donald Carcieri '65, questioning the site's suitability.

According to a press release from the letter's signatories, then-Gov. Edward DiPrete protected Black Point in 1987 to "prevent a condominium development on important land with recognized rights of public access to the shore."

The potential construction at the site is part of a renewable energy project that began earlier this year. In February, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the office in charge of evaluating the Black Point site, was allowed to begin seeking proposals from energy companies to build wind turbines on state-owned land.

According to W. Michael Sullivan, director of the DEM, "Black Point is not separable from the four other sites being evaluated."

This process is "a joint effort" between the department and Narragansett to assess the potential of five different places in the town as possible sites. The words " ‘assess' and ‘potential' have been overlooked in (the environmental groups') press release," Sullivan said. No final decisions have been made about placement of the turbines, he said.

But the six groups that united to draft the letter to Carcieri take issue with both the potential use of Black Point as a wind turbine site and the lack of transparency and dialogue in the decision-making process.

"We're asking the government to consider a process whereby the state develops a policy and a set of criteria which would govern how conserved land would be used," said Jonathan Stone, executive director of Save the Bay, a group dedicated to protecting Narragansett Bay.

The organizations worry that the placement of a wind turbine at Black Point would set a dangerous precedent, said Rupert Friday, director of the Rhode Island Land Trust Council.
"If you build a wind turbine, what's next?" Friday said. "A cell phone tower?"

Paul Beaudette, president of the Environmental Council of Rhode Island, agreed. "This piece of property was critical enough for the state to condemn it and purchase it,"

Beaudette said. "We're not in opposition to windmills ... We're just saying that Black Point is not the best choice."

The Department of Environmental Management is factoring these concerns into its assessment, Sullivan said.

Two of the three signatories on the letter were invited to sit on the assessment team and said that they were too busy," he added. "We've invited people to the table."

The department has surveyed a substantial portion of the Narragansett community regarding renewable wind energy and the sites that have been proposed, Sullivan said. The surveys found that about 75 percent of residents favored the plans.

"Our conclusion at this point in time is the public has a different perspective," Sullivan said.
"What (the environmental management department) is being assaulted for is trying to walk the walk," he added. "There's no decision yet."

But the problem perceived by the groups that wrote the letter is larger than the establishment of a few wind turbines, their leaders said. 

"We certainly appreciate the efforts of the (department) to develop renewable wind (and) renewable resources," Stone said. "We think it's a very admirable intent that the state is pursuing, but it doesn't give the state a free pass to develop wherever they please."



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