Select Board members and town officials faced questions on affordable housing, offshore wind, and the recent decision to not interview former State Trooper Jack Moran for the position of police chief during the Civic League’s annual summer forum, held at the Atheneum Tuesday morning.
Tensions flared early as questioners pushed Select Board members on Vineyard Wind, the 60-turbine wind farm located off Nantucket’s southwest shore that has begun construction and is slated to start supplying power by the end of the year.
Select Board members have long insisted that debates over the merits of the wind farm are outside of their purview, as they have no power to stop construction.
“We didn’t have a choice,” said Select Board member Matt Fee, who handled most of the questions about Vineyard Wind. “It’s not in our purview.”
Offshore wind farms, a priority of the Biden administration, will be built. All Nantucket can do, Fee argued, is push for mitigation payments, such as the $16 million the town is set to receive from Vineyard Wind.
“Accepting a compromise, frankly, is the hallmark of good governance,” Select Board Vice-Chair Brooke Mohr said. The alternative to compromise, Mohr said, was to fight, lose, and get nothing. “I wish we had control over everything in the United States of America that had an impact on Nantucket. We don’t.”
But this didn’t satisfy questioners from the public, who repeatedly interrupted Select Board members and Civic League moderator Lee Saperstein. At times, questions devolved into editorial comments about the dangers of wind farms to marine life and the bad example set for the younger generation by capitulating on the issue, at one point forcing Saperstein to cut off the microphone used to solicit questions. Several audience members then called for the microphone to be turned back on, and Saperstein relented, leading to a scattering of applause.
“The agreement is done,” Fee said in a response to a question about whether the Select Board could still back out of the deal reached with Vineyard Wind for mitigation payments and oppose construction of the wind farm. “But that doesn’t mean we won’t take a different stance or a tougher stance potentially on [future offshore wind farms].”
The Select Board also fielded several questions on affordable housing developments and overpopulation, two topics that have long topped the list of local governance concerns.
“At what point do we stop the building, do we stop any kind of building? Because the island obviously can't support it,” Sherriff Jim Perelman asked. "When does it end?"
Select Board chair Dawn Hill Holdgate said many islanders work in construction, so major changes to industry regulations are tough to pass. Additionally, serious limitations on construction could infringe on landowners’ property rights.
Photographer Burton “Spruce” Balkind asked specifically about the recent surge of affordable housing developments, including the Wiggles Way development off of Fairgrounds Road, for which the Select Board recently approved an additional $2.5 million in funding. He expressed concern that they would attract more residents to the island, increasing traffic and other quality-of-life issues related to overpopulation.
“It's really important to realize how many people are here, they’re employees, there's full-time work for them,” Mohr replied. “We’re not building affordable housing and attracting people from America.” Instead, she said, affordable housing developments are for people who are homeless or living in substandard housing conditions.
“What we’re doing with affordable and attainable housing is catching up to the need that exists,” she said, pointing out that many people live in housing that violates Board of Health regulations, but don’t report it to avoid becoming homeless. “If we actually enforced our health bylaws, we would have an economic and homelessness crisis,” she said.
The Select Board and Town officials also answered questions on coastal resilience, solar subsidies, and electric bikes, with Mohr suggesting the town will pursue potential avenues for enforceable regulations on the faster electric bikes involved in several recent crashes on-island. Mohr and town manager Libby Gibson also offered some clarity on the decision not to interview Moran for police chief, with Mohr suggesting it could be related to credentialing requirements. A recording of the full forum is available on the Nantucket Atheneum’s YouTube page.