Letter: Listen to the Wind Turbine Survey
Town Council member Barbara A. VonVillas was the sole opposing vote to Monday's call for a ban on all wind turbines in Middletown except for agricultural use.
To the Editor:
I smell fear.
Why else would four Middletown councilmen - when two of the seven Council members were absent - orchestrate approval of a motion to halt all but “agricultural” development of wind energy in Middletown – a motion that was not even on the Monday night agenda?
Is it because the results of the recent town survey related to wind turbines clearly demonstrated that more than 50% of the respondents support properly sited wind turbines of all sizes? Is it because the faction that has been opposing turbines has finally been clearly identified as the minority? Is it because they wanted to minimize the public feedback before it changed the conversation?
What was in the survey that so frightened these councilmen that they needed to eliminate the threat to their persistent stonewalling? Is this the same Council that has consistently demanded lengthy periods of public input, most recently for example, on roundabouts?
The majority of the respondents were between the ages of 35 and 75. They were employed, self-employed or retired. They were year-round residents. The respondents were a typical baseline for Middletown.
Where do they live? A large number come from Easton’s Point, but the rest live across the other areas of town. An unbiased person might conclude that there was fair representation among the 549 responses.
The format was based on a survey conducted by RIDEM in Narragansett, so one might conclude that it was politically neutral.
A large majority (84%) considered it important or very important that Middletown use clean energy in contrast with a minority (9%) that considered it unimportant or very unimportant. (It should be noted that the percentages described here do not take into account neutral responses, although one might conclude that a neutral response reflected no opinion either way.)
Between 80% and 90% considered the following reasons important for the development of clean wind energy: “good for local and national economies… lower electric bills… reduce dependency on foreign oil…good for the environment.”
On the other hand, 35% to 42% were concerned about the flicker effect, the noise, and the cost effectiveness. More than 50% said turbines are not aesthetically pleasing.
Respondents were influenced by location, but it’s fair to say that the support for turbines of all sizes was disproportionately higher than the opposition.
In fact, the only fairly close results related to the potential for seeing turbines from a respondent’s home, and the only question that elicited a larger percentage of opposition was in regard to hearing them from a home.
Interestingly, the majority said turbines would have a positive or no impact on property values, electric rates, air pollution, economic development, public safety, the use of public beaches, taxes, and the general environment.
A large majority supported a town turbine that was an economic benefit to the town.
Of course a survey is just a way of testing the waters. It is not a mandate. However, this survey was authorized by the Middletown Town Council as a way to get feedback from the town following the statement, “We don’t even know if the people in Middletown want a turbine.”
Well, we did the survey. We got the results. The people have spoken. Yet four councilmen contrived to act arbitrarily and sweep the results under the rug at one meeting although turbines have been on the table for more than 3 years, the soon anticipated studies promised by governmental agencies have not yet been released, and there has been no discussion of the feedback provided in the survey by the people of Middletown.
I smell fear, and I also smell collusion – a motion coming out of nowhere and a majority vote lined up before a meeting. This Council has repeatedly talked about transparency. Unfortunately for them, they got it. Their motives are blatantly transparent.
Maybe the only way to fix this mess is a referendum. Those results – one way or the other – would be indisputable. That would protect the people’s will.
And perhaps the community needs to look closer at its representation on this Council at election time.
I vote my conscience, even when it is unpopular, so please, if you do not like my voting record, don’t vote for me.
However, if you are among those who are being disenfranchised by council members who would stonewall forever and then disregard the results of a survey that gave them answers they asked for but didn’t like, let your pencil do the talking at the voting booth in November.
I know I will.
Barbara A. VonVillas