EASTHAM – The town’s efforts to erect up to four 400-foot wind turbines in North Eastham were swept away by a mighty squall this week. At a public hearing held Monday by the planning
board, more than 70 property owners successfully opposed bylaw that would have permitted the turbines’ construction on a town-owned, 12-acre site off Nauset Road.
The planning board ultimately agreed to shelve the proposed bylaw regulating commercial turbines until the town had done at least another year’s worth of planning. However, members did vow to revise a residential turbine bylaw, in time for this spring’s Annual Town Meeting, that would regulate the conditions under which property owners could erect turbines.
Overall, the atmosphere of the two-and-a-half-hour hearing was angry and accusatory on the public’s side, rife with allegations that the town – in particular, the ad hoc energy committee charged with developing a wind energy proposal – had not adequately studied potentially deleterious noise and environmental impacts that the commercial turbines would have on the abutting residential neighborhood.
Even planning board members seemed to agree with many of the public’s criticisms of the residential and commercial turbine bylaws, the drafts of which they had approved less than a month earlier.
(The group was asked to prepare the bylaws for Town Meeting in May so the commercial project could go out to bid this spring.) In response to Henry Fisher’s concerns about “infrasonic” noise
— potential vibrations that can be sensed, but not heard, by the human body – planning board chair Howard Sandler admitted that “I’m not even in a position to understand it.”
Compounding the confusion and contention about the board’s draft bylaws – in particular, the turbines’ setback requirements and noise thresholds – were several “substitution” bylaws that were proposed by members of the public throughout the meeting.
Energy committee member Gwen Pelletier distributed copies of the state’s Division of Energy Resources bylaw, saying her committee voted to endorse that document instead of the planning
board’s draft bylaw. Resident Phil Hesse said he plans to place a petitioned article on the Town Meeting warrant for a commercial bylaw to increase minimum setbacks to 1,200 feet from the
planning board’s proposed 400 feet. And resident Fred Fenlon questioned why the town had apparently ignored the Cape Cod Commission’s model bylaws regulating commercial and residential turbines in drafting its own bylaws. The public also showed its willingness to get down and dirty to protest the commercial turbine bylaws before them. Dennis Murphy, who owns Lower Cape Sand and Gravel on 20 acres abutting the planned commercial turbine site, threatened that if the project went forward, he could sell his property – which lies in the town’s water resource protection district – to another business that would “do everything up to the line of legal” with the land. Several residents further suggested that the Mass. Technology Collaborative, the state agency that has funded studies on the planned commercial turbine site, has been overstating the benefits of the turbines to the energy committee while playing down its potential drawbacks.
“[MTC] cares very little about how this affects us,” Wells said, urging the planning board to seek technical advice outside of MTC and its subcontracted engineers. “It’s your job to inject reason and common sense into the debate.” “The energy committee is supposed to be studying this, not jamming it down our throats,” resident Howard Gostin added.
“We have a long way to go before this goes to the [Town Meeting] floor,” Sandler said wearily before the board agreed to hold off on presenting the commercial turbine bylaw for a vote.
After the meeting, Pelletier said she wasn’t surprised that the opposition to the commercial turbine project had come out forcefully this week. But it was ironic, she said, that the opposition had only formed because the energy committee “has been so open” about the town’s plan, notifying abutters of meetings and hearings on the subject since last fall. Among the revisions to the residential turbine bylaw, which will be redrafted by Town Planner Mary Elizabeth Burgess by the end of this week, will be a “sliding scale” of allowable turbine heights based on the property owner’s lot size. (The original draft set a standard of a 60-foot turbine permitted only on parcels of three acres or more.)
The revisions also will reduce the maximum noise threshold to about 30 decibels (down from 60 dB). The public hearing on the revisions to the residential turbine bylaw is planned for 5 p.m. March 26, at Town Hall.
By Emily Sussman
The Provincetown Banner
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