Congratulations to the Ill Wind Coalition

<em>Guest Post by Michael Chambers (guest posts are moderated, but not approved or endorsed by the CCA Steering Committee)</em>
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Now that the sale of the Whalerock property has been completed, the members of the now defunct Ill Wind Coalition can look back on the successful outcome of their grass roots opposition to the Whalerock Project. This is a good example of what can happen when concerned citizens continue to oppose projects that are poorly thought out and geared to special interests. In September 2010, this group took the developer and the sitting Town Council to task by hiring a lawyer to obtain a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the construction of two industrial sized wind turbines off Rte 1. This action ultimately bought time for the election of a new Town Council in November 2010 and made the subsequent moratorium on wind turbine construction more meaningful and impactful. Members of this opposition group had sought support for their efforts from Representative Donna Walsh, but she declined to discuss or lend support for their complaint.

With the TRO in hand, the Town Council and the Ill-Wind Coalition continued to seek support through legal means to stop the Whalerock Project, all the while being criticized by the local Democratic Blog and getting silence from the Charlestown Democratic Town Committee(CDTC). By April, 2011, it was clear that the developer was not in a position to get a heavy Federal subsidy to support his project and the $10 million construction costs would make it difficult to find investors. At this time, with the court cases firmly entrenched and the court decisions not expected for a year or so, the CDTC came out against the industrial wind turbines; much like Russia declaring war on Japan when the war in the Pacific was all but over. That was the extent of their support. Talk and very little of it. It was more of a mumble than a clearly voiced opinion. Their bloggers continued to deride the Town Council and the Ill Wind members who they termed NIMBYs and hot heads.

So let’s take a close look at all the support we got from the Republicans, organized Democrats, and other Independents. The Republican Party members were loudly silent, unless you consider Greg Avedisian one; he was adamant that the turbines be built. Other Independents were basically split, with Lisa DiBello and John Donoghue expressing support for the Ill Wind effort; but others were as silent as the CDTC and the Republicans. So that leaves the CDTC and their blog. The CDTC amazingly tried to take some credit for the outcome of the issue. You can view their incredible audacity on their web site. Six months after the TRO, the CDTC came out against the project (April 22, 2011). Two years later (May 28, 2013), the CDTC asked that the Town Council negotiate a fair purchase price, only after most of the groundwork had been completed through discussions between the developer and Town Council. The participation of the CDTC doesn’t seem like leadership to me, but more like opportunism.

Out of “respect” for the voters, they proposed having a referendum on the sale of the land even though the funds for purchasing the land had been secured by a public referendum. Such a duplicative effort would only have delayed the sale and would have implied that the Town Council was not given voter permission to spend the funds they voted to approve. Such circular arguments are meant to delay action. Thankfully, the sale was authorized even without one CDTC member voicing unconditional support for the land sale.

The bloggers crow that they were for the sale of the property from 2011. If we remember correctly, the sale price at that time was $3.5 million. Because of the land assessment records and the fact that the District Court had not yet ruled on the lawsuits before it, the so-called hot heads of the Ill Wind Coalition rejected the “offer” outright and vowed to continue to oppose the developer and all the obstacles he was throwing in front of the Town Council. Had the bloggers gotten their way at that time, the town would have paid about $1.4 million more than the final price paid last month. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, it was only the taxpayers’ money. Right?

Lessons learned? As the issue played out, people dropped out of the coalition and others joined the coalition, but the coalition’s objectives never changed. A constant direction was the key; not wavering or waiting for directions from a higher authority. Moral indignation was stronger than political persuasion.

Don’t poke the taxpayers. Don’t insult people who have a moral outrage. Don’t wake the sleeping bear or suffer the consequences – now there are more people providing oversight on behalf of their neighbors. Treat people with respect and dignity. Finally, if the developers try it once, and fail, they’ll try it again. If the bloggers disrespect your neighbor, they’ll disrespect you. Thanks to the Progressive Democratic Blog, all of these bromides came into play in the town of Charlestown.

By the way, Democratic Town Committee members, please let the hot-headed Ill Wind Coalition members know if that work they spent sleepless nights on was good enough for you to take credit for.