Saturday, May 05, 2007

A David beats a Goliath - let there be wind

This story has all the stuff of a Frank Capra movie. In fact, I'd put it up there right alongside "It's A Wonderful Life", "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and one of my favorites, "You Can't Take It With You."

Building wind projects in New England is proving to be a mighty challenge. Siting has been the major issue -- somewhat puzzling (some say hypocritical) for a region that prides itself for being part of the environmental movement's avant-garde.

Brother Dennis Wyrzykowski and the Community of Teresian Carmelites have a more traditional foe to contend with in their efforts to help address climate change -- good old-fashioned greed. (GW)

Monks buy monastery land

99 acres in Paxton to get wind farm

By Milton Valencia
Worcester Telegram & Gazette
May 4, 2007

- A day of legal wrangling was punctuated with a victory yesterday for a small religious community that took on a massive communications company for a dream to build a monastery and wind farm in Paxton.

The Community of Teresian Carmelites, based at 30 Chrome St., officially signed paperwork to acquire 99 acres of undeveloped land on Asnebumskit Hill, where it plans to build a “green monastery” that will serve as a center of social teaching.

The acquisition capped a day of negotiations over fine points in the contract transferring the property to them that kept members of the small Catholic order stressed until the agreement was signed. The Carmelites, expecting the contract to have been signed much earlier, had planned a celebration for 11:30 a.m. yesterday, but had to postpone it because the lawyers were still at work.

The paperwork finally was signed shortly before 5 p.m.

“This has been a challenge from Day 1,” said Brother Dennis Wyrzykowski, prior of the Teresian Carmelites. “There have been issues of control, manipulation, in the business world — tactics that are less than charitable, to say the least.”

The religious order had signed a purchase and sale agreement with Boston-based American Tower in April 2005 to acquire the 99 acres. Brother Wyrzykowski said he had taken a hike on the property, appreciated its scenic views of Wachusett Mountain and the Berkshire Mountains, and figured it was a good spiritual place for a monastery.

The original sale price was $230,000 and the order put down $5,000, with closing expected in October 2005. Soon after the deal was struck, the land was declared one of the best areas in the state for a wind farm by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a state agency that inquired into building windmills there.

The newfound value of the Paxton parcel delayed the sale of the property, with published reports saying American Tower rescinded the deal to sell the land and instead wanted to lease the property.

A spokesman for American Tower did not return a telephone call for comment.

Furthermore, a company that had leased two acres of the land from American Tower, stepped into the legal battle, saying it had rights to buy the two acres if American Tower ever sold the property. The company, Industrial Communications and Electronics Inc., is still contesting the sale, but a lawyer for the religious order said that issue should be resolved.

On April 3, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Carmelites, giving American Tower 30 days to complete the sale.

The deadline was yesterday, and a small celebration was scheduled for yesterday morning at the community’s location on Chrome Street. It was spoiled when the paperwork wasn’t signed. Lawyers said they expected last-minute issues in real estate transactions, but that the religious order’s stance, and the court order, would not be compromised. The order was represented by Douglas H. Wilkins of Anderson & Kreiger LLP in Cambridge.

“We’re not compromising our values, our principles, and we’re going to hold firm. This is a God project,” said Brother Wyrzykowski.

Yesterday evening, Brother Wyrzykowski was with lawyers in Boston and said in a telephone interview that the deal had been finalized, the paperwork had been signed and the deed changes would be recorded in court today.

“We’re going to move mountains,” he said.

An issue still remains with the windmills. Federal Aviation Administration regulations could limit the placement of windmills on the property, but Brother Wyrzykowski said he believes, based on conversations with experts, that the religious community could obtain a variance.

The goal is a windmill farm that will power the monastery and provide poor families in Worcester with lower-cost energy. Members of the religious order envision a monastery that provides a place for their religious work, while serving as a teaching center for cultural values, including caring for the environment.

“A monastery is not a culture closed in on itself, but actually a culture open to the world,” said Brother Solomon Benedict, vocation director at the order.

“It’s at the heart of the church,” he said.


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