SouthCoast Wind foes demand answers from Portsmouth council

Several people disrupt meeting by going off the agenda, while officials insist there’s nothing to currently report

By Jim McGaw
Posted 4/12/23

PORTSMOUTH — For a topic that wasn’t even on the council’s business agenda, it sure drew a lot of discussion.

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SouthCoast Wind foes demand answers from Portsmouth council

Several people disrupt meeting by going off the agenda, while officials insist there’s nothing to currently report


PORTSMOUTH — For a topic that wasn’t even on the council’s business agenda, it sure drew a lot of discussion.

Dozens of residents opposed to SouthCoast Wind’s proposal to run cables from an offshore wind farm up the Sakonnet River and across part of north Portsmouth jammed the Town Council chambers Monday night. They demanded to know whether town officials were working behind the scenes to secure some sort of deal with wind energy developers — a charge council members vehemently denied — and took to the podium to spar with their elected officials despite the fact the topic wasn’t even on the business agenda for discussion.

Council President Kevin Aguiar struggled mightily at times to retain order, as he and other council members were interrupted and talked over even while warning residents their behavior could lead to a possible open meetings violation against the town.

The meeting started off in agreeable enough fashion, but turned south within minutes.

Before the public portion of the meeting, the council met in executive session to discuss SouthCoast Wind (formerly Mayflower Wind). Here’s how the item regarding the wind energy development appeared on the agenda:

2.  R.I. General Law §42-46-5 (a)(5) Any discussions or considerations related to the acquisition or lease of real property for public purposes, or of the disposition of publicly held property wherein advanced public information would be detrimental to the interest of the public – SouthCoast Wind (formerly Mayflower Wind)

When the public session began, Aguiar told residents the council merely heard an “update” on SouthCoast in executive session — several residents had e-mailed the council to request an update, he noted later in the meeting — but there was no news to report. 

“I’d like to state, no action was taken, no votes were taken,” he said to shouts of approval and applause from the audience. “If and when there is something to vote on, it will be done in a public session. The public will be allowed to comment at that point, and any votes will be done in public. I know there’s some information floating around out there. At this point, there’s nothing to report.”

A few minutes later, Town Administrator Richard Rainer Jr. gave his regular report, which also included an update on SouthCoast. Once again, however, he had little news to share.

“There’s actually very little to report … that hasn’t already been disclosed,” Rainer said. “If there is going to be an agreement regarding a host community agreement with SouthCoast Wind, which there is not — there’s not even a draft one, nothing to review — that will be brought to the council for your discussion and approval. And, as you said, that will be done in public.”

SouthCoast remains active, however, in advancing the development and design of the proposal as well as “progressing the permitting requirements,” Rainer said. As the developers’ efforts mature, SouthCoast will make a presentation to the town at a public meeting, he said.

SouthCoast Wind recently received a draft environmental impact statement from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which triggered a public comment period which lasts up until midnight on Tuesday, April 18. You can comment by visiting the town’s website (, navigating to the Town Planner page, and finding BOEM’s comments section

“We anticipate SouthCoast will engage with the town later this spring as they continue their work to secure a project cable route. We’ve not had any meetings with them in about three months now,” Rainer said. “There have been no agreements, there’s nothing on paper, and obviously there’s no votes to be taken.”

Residents demand answers

After Rainer was done with his report, however, some residents started approaching the podium, despite the fact that SouthCoast was not on the agenda for public discussion. An item must be placed on the business agenda portion of an agenda to allow for discussion, and reports from an executive session or the town administrator don't fit the bill, residents were told. 

Undeterred, they spoke out anyway. Ralph Craft, of East Main Road, told the council that the SouthCoast Wind project, if realized, will “greatly impact our town, our future, and the history of our town. We’re going to see it, out of window and down the street. You will see this farm off of Newport.”

Craft asked the council why residents couldn’t talk about the proposal if a representative from SouthCoast was in the room. When council member Keith Hamilton corrected him by saying no one from the wind energy company was present, Craft apologized. “I was told there was someone here,” he said.

“That would be bad information,” replied council member Leonard Katzman.

Some of that bad information had been floating around social media, a few council members contended. “That’s what’s been on Facebook: The council’s going to vote on it tonight …” Aguiar began before being interrupted by Sharlene Patton, another resident who took the mic without being recognized.

“No one on Facebook said the council was voting on anything tonight,” she said.

Yet some residents did in fact appear to have their facts confused, judging by their social media posts before the meeting. One Portsmouth Facebook user posted the following on April 7: “You might want to go to the Portsmouth Town Council meeting on Monday, April 10th@7 p.m… they are making a decision to come to an agreement with Mayflower/Southcoast Wind to bring cables down the Sakonnet River to Brayton Pt. Station in Mt. Hope Bay…Without residents having a say in it!” 

No such item was on the agenda for council action, and Town Solicitor Kevin Gavin repeatedly warned against allowing residents to speak on the matter.

Patton, who said she had tried to put the matter on the agenda before the deadline but was told it didn’t make the docket, pressed the council on what she did wrong. “That’s why people are here — because you shot us down,” she said.

Aguiar told her she should file again. The council will review the agenda request and “take it into consideration,” but there were no guarantees, he said. Patton replied that “maybe” wasn’t good enough.

Lisa Quattrocki Knight of Little Compton, a member of Green Oceans and a vocal critic of SouthCoast’s plans, held a picture of ocean wind turbines and talked over Aguiar as he tried to blunt further discussion on the issue.

“So far these companies have not been transparent with the public,” she said.

Katzman, nearly shouting, warned her the council could find itself in legal peril if it allowed residents to speak on an item that wasn’t on the agenda for discussion. “We literally, legally, cannot respond to anything you say,” he said. “Because it’s not on the agenda, the attorney general will come down on us again because somebody will file an open meetings violation.”

Some council members admitted to being a bit gun shy due to a recent meetings violation. In February, the R.I. Attorney General’s Office found that the council violated the Open Meetings Act in 2020 when it discussed the town’s pension plan in executive session without proper notification to the public.

Aguiar assured the crowd that everyone will be able to say their piece in a public forum when the time is right.

“When (SouthCoast Wind) comes before the town, everybody is more then welcome to speak at that point,” he said.

SouthCoast Wind, Mayflower, Portsmouth Town Council, SouthCoast, green energy, wind energy

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.