Falmouth, MA: A consensus to harm citizens?

Falmouth ,Massachusetts

A consensus to harm citizens?

May 31, 2012 By ERIC BIBLER

Falmouth selectmen, according to a recent article in the Cape Cod Times, continue to “sympathize” with the desperate plight of wind turbine abutters, assuring them that they “understand” why the victims are boycotting their sham exercise in “consensus building” — essentially acknowledging the validity of complaints that this municipal project is imposing grave harm on some of its residents.

But the board of selectmen is sticking to its so-called “statement of principles,” a shockingly callous and misguided policy statement that proclaims that the board intends to earn enough revenue from the wind turbine to pay the electric bills of the wastewater treatment plant and the debt service on the machines, come hell or high water. Whatever their “sympathies,” this issue is clearly non-negotiable.

Meanwhile, the Falmouth wastewater superintendent continues to grumble that the town has already made several “concessions” to the victims.

The obvious implication is that the 40 families and 70 individuals who protest this treatment are being unreasonable because they refuse to accept the premise that a “consensus” of the selectmen and the unaffected residents who enjoy the monetary benefits should be entitled to decree the amount of suffering that they, and their families, should endure on their behalf.

Why does anyone defend the idea that the town of Falmouth has a right to harm its own residents and that the degree of the punishment that is meted out should be determined by a bogus “consensus building” process?

To illustrate the moral bankruptcy, and the transparent absurdity, of this idea, consider a hypothetical example:

Suppose a broken sewer line were emptying its contents onto the lawns of, say, all of the members of the board of selectmen on a daily basis. Suppose that they complained about it to the town, saying it disrupted their lives and constituted a health hazard. Suppose further that everyone agreed that it was a nuisance and a health hazard; that the town was at fault for its defective design and construction; and that the town had not even bothered to obtain a proper permit for the project. Finally, suppose it would be expensive to fix the problem and that no money was in the budget to fix it.

Would the selectmen support a “consensus building exercise” to determine how much sewage they should be willing to tolerate in their yards?

Would the selectmen accept a “consensus” proposal that the sewage would flow “only during the daytime, but not at night” — a mere 12 hours a day?

Would they accept the argument that, even though their neighbors “sympathized” with their plight, the consensus demands a “balancing of interests,” including an acquiescence by the selectmen to a “statement of principles” proclaiming that “it’s just too expensive to fix the sewer line or shut it down”?

Would they appreciate their neighbors’ stubborn insistence that the sewage in their yards — it’s only during the daytime hours, after all — did not really constitute a health hazard but was merely an “annoyance” — and that if the selectmen should just suck it up and “get used to it” for the sake of the town?

Here is a plan to improve Falmouth’s finances:

The town could encourage local septic companies to unload their tankers on the selectmen’s front lawns while paying their normal processing fees to the wastewater treatment plant. Falmouth would collect the fees and save electricity charges and other costs on the unprocessed material, increasing revenues.

The selectmen could embrace this opportunity to lead by example — and to make the same sort of personal sacrifice for the town that they currently urge upon those who have the misfortune of living too close to their wind turbines.

Interests are balanced. The consensus is pleased. Falmouth’s finances are improved.

In fact, the Falmouth Board of Selectmen should revise its statement of principles to embrace a more fundamental precept — one that they have implicitly acknowledged, but repeatedly ignored: No town has any right to harm its own citizens — no matter how pressing, or attractive, the financial incentive.

Eric Bibler of Weston, Conn., a longtime regular visitor to Wellfleet, is president of Save Our Seashore.

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