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Beatty solar project raises questions

Things got uncharacteristically heated, or at least moderately warm, at the Beatty Town Advisory Board’s May 9 meeting as Board Chair Erika Gerling clashed with resident Teresa Sullivan over the workings of the board’s solar project committee.

Sullivan criticized what she saw as the closed nature of the committee’s meetings, alleging that they violated state open meeting law. She said she did not feel she had been given the opportunity to attend the meetings since their times and agendas had not been posted.

Gerling said that the district attorney’s office had said that, since the committee was not an elected body and did not make policy or take action but only conducted research and provided information, it was not subject to the requirements of the open meeting law.

Sullivan thought that the committee had produced a letter recommending that the BLM deny NextEra’s Beatty Energy Center project application or give it a low priority. She said that the writing of this letter, which the board was proposing to send, constituted action or policy making.

Gerling countered that the committee did not produce the letter.

“I am the main author of the letter,” said Gerling.

Sullivan said that she wanted to make clear that she was not in favor of the solar project. but she felt that things had to be done in a certain way.

Committee member Laura Cunningham said, “We have been completely transparent. We bring everything to the board.”

During discussion of the question of whether to send the letter, Gerling said that it was basically the same letter they had sent almost a year ago, but with much more detail. The new version is 18 pages long.

After further discussion, the board voted unanimously to send the letter.

NextEra representative Matt Morris said the company was disappointed with the letter but that the company looked forward to “continuing the conversation.”

The board also voted unanimously to mail out a solar project survey they had put together.

Morris objected to the nature of the survey, saying that it seemed constructed to confirm and support one point of view. He also complained, that, although the board had adopted a couple of the company’s suggestions for the survey, they had “disregarded” most of them.

Board member Melody Koivu said that space in the survey was limited, and not everything could be included. She said that the part that was suggested by NextEra constituted a significant part of the limited space.

Board member Perry Forsyth, attending the meeting via telephone, initially opposed sending out the survey, saying that the community’s position was already clear, and that the survey was a “waste of time and money.”

Gerling, however, said that it was a matter of the board keeping their word. “We’re going to follow through with it because we said we would.”

The board then voted unanimously to approve the survey and send it out to residents.

The board also unanimously approved the non-controversial proposal to spend up to $15,000 for the 2022 Fourth of July fireworks display. The cost will be split between the town’s tourism fund and the Beatty Volunteer Fire Department.

Richard Stephens is a freelance reporter living in Beatty.

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