By Jessica Willis, Berkshire Eagle Staff
SAVOY – An informational update on the proposed wind energy project was held Thursday night at the fire station, and several residents used the meeting as a chance to angrily voice their opinions about a project that is mired in controversy and uncertainty.
Environmental and maintenance issues connected to the building of the wind turbines’ access road, along with concerns about sound, lighting and appearance of the turbines, were discussed in a question-and-answer session between residents and Minuteman Wind LLC, a Waltham-based partnership of energy professionals who want to complete the 12.5-megawatt facility by spring 2008.
The project, one of four in the works in the Berkshires, could provide enough annual electricity for 3,000 homes in the county. Critics of wind power, however, argue that despite its status as a limitless, renewable source of power, it still cannot act as the sole provider of electricity to a community.
The sound created by the rotating propellers was one of the greatest concerns for residents. Stephen Barrett, Minuteman Wind’s environmental scientist, said he recently performed a noise-level-impact study when “there were no leaves on the trees,” and sound traveled easily.
Sound increase of ‘one decibel’
At the property boundary of the 293-acre parcel of land where the turbines are to be located, Barrett said the turbines increased the pre-existing ambient sound of the forest by “one decibel” – inaudible to the human ear.
“I don’t want to hear nothing,” retorted Amoreena Gazaille, who, along with her husband, Aaron, moved from North Adams to Savoy five years ago.
“It’s the ‘nothing’ that makes Savoy so attractive,” Aaron Gazaille added. “We moved here to get away from it all.”
The couple live on Brier Road, and the five proposed wind turbines, each standing 420 feet tall from propeller tip to base, would be directly in their line of sight.
A special permit or a change to the town’s bylaw that restricts the height of structures built in Savoy would be needed to move forward with the project.
“If there’s a bylaw already in place, we shouldn’t even be here tonight,” Amoreena Gazaille said.
Meanwhile, Barbara Clement, a resident who moved to Savoy from North Egremont four years ago, was equally upset that the informational meeting provided “no resolutions” to the issues that were raised by the townspeople.
“The most we could get out of (Minuteman) was ‘We don’t know’
or ‘We haven’t researched that,’ ” Clement said in an interview yesterday. “They said they’re promoting this project because of global warming, and I say they’re here because we’re sparsely populated and have very little money as a town.”
If Savoy approved the project, according to an information packet Minuteman gave to the meeting’s attendees, the town could stand to gain additional tax revenue in excess of $130,000 for the 20-plus years the turbines would be active.
Financially speaking, the Savoy resident who stands to gain the most from the project is Harold Malloy, a logger who has lived in view of West Hill with his wife, Diane, for 22 years.
Minuteman has leased the land for the project from the Malloys for an undisclosed sum, and Malloy believes that the “real deal” of the project’s beneficence has been obscured by rumors and fears surrounding wind farming.
“The real deal is that this (project) is one of the best opportunities for the people of Savoy,” he said. “I would be behind this project no matter who had it.”
Of the money he is making as a lessor, he said, “it’s always welcome. I’ve got two children in high school and two in college.”
Donald S. McCauley, the president of Minuteman, thought the meeting went well, despite the negative comments expressed by several townspeople.
“Wind projects bring out a level of antagonism that is just incredible,” he said. “But I’m confident that (the project) will win the support of the townspeople, despite the core of determined opponents.”
McCauley said that future plans for the project include pursuing an amendment to the zoning bylaw and “continued communication with the town.”
In addition, he said that plans are in the works to charter a bus and take Savoy residents on a tour of active wind farms in the area.
Jessica Willis can be reached at email@example.com or at (413) 664-4995.
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