EASTHAM – The planning board knocked the wind out of the energy committee Monday, voting to withdraw a proposed zoning bylaw for the construction of up to four 400-foot-tall wind turbines on 12 acres of town-owned land off Nauset Road.
The energy committee had hoped to see the proposed bylaw on spring town meeting warrant, but after 2 1/2 hours of discussion and input from nearly 70 residents, most of whom live near the proposed site, the board agreed it did not know enough to move the bylaw forward.
The planning board also rejected a request by energy committee member Gwen Pelletier to substitute the state’s new Division of Energy Resources Bylaw, which Pelletier said addresses many of the objections abutters had raised to the town’s proposed bylaw. She told the board that the committee, on Friday, had agreed to ask the planning board to replace its draft bylaw on public turbines with the state bylaw.
Brian Eastman, chairman of the energy committee, was unable to attend Monday’s hearing, but said in a prepared statement, “The energy committee is disappointed with the decision of the planning board to delay consideration of the public wind bylaw beyond May’s annual town meeting, but we do understand.
“Zoning is a complicated and complex issue for all,” he said, adding, “a simple, non-political approach” would be for the board to adopt the new state bylaw.
While the planning board’s public turbine bylaw won’t be on the warrant in May, one very similar to the new state bylaw will be on the warrant, placed there by petition by a group of abutters who objected to the planning board’s bylaw.
Phil Hesse, one of the abutters who drafted the petition article, said he thought it was important to give voters a wind turbine bylaw that proposes acceptable setback and noise requirements, as opposed to the ones set forth in the planningboard’s bylaw.
The planning board’s bylaw proposed a setback of 400 feet, while the petitioned bylaw proposes a setback of 1,200 feet.
While disappointed, the energy committee has not given up its fight. It will meet with selectmen Monday, March 5, at 6:30 p.m.
Selectman Ken Collins, a strong supporter of wind energy, did not attend the planning board hearing. “It’s a hard sell and as far as I’m concerned, no one on the energy committee has the foggiest notion of what is going on,” he said, adding, “If it goes down the drain, it’s their fault.”
The planning board agreed to try to work out the section of the proposed bylaw that would permit wind turbines on private property so that town meeting will have a chance to vote on that. It will hold a public hearing on that bylaw March 26.
Howard Sandler, chairman of the planning board, made it clear he is in favor of turbines. If he had enough land, he’d put up one himself, he said, noting that without a bylaw in place, anyone can put up a wind turbine since there is nothing on the books to prevent it.
Resident Henry Curtis urged the board to change the proposed bylaw for private turbines, saying the requirement that a turbine be erected on at least three acres of land and with a height limit of 60 feet precludes most people from putting one up. He’d like to put up three, 30-foot-tall turbines on his property, but does not have the land to do so. He suggested a sliding scale for turbine heights, based on the property owner’s lot size, an idea that Sandler thought had merit.
The private bylaw also sets a maximum noise threshold at 60 decibels, a threshold those at the hearing felt was too high, and suggested lowering it to at least 30 decibels.
Eastman said a quiet whisper is about 30 decibels, while office noise is 60 decibels, and normal conversation is 60 to 70 decibels.
A decibel level of a quiet residential area at night is 40, according to the online encyclopedia Wikopedia. Jack Miller, an abutter, urged the planning board, in considering both private and public turbines, to start with a decibel level of 0, and then work up to an acceptable level.
Paul Lothrop, chairman of the board of health, said the 60 decibel level “is well over a scream,” a statement Sandler challenged. Abutter Andrew Wells said noise would be heard even at 35 decibels.
Henry Fischer said turbines produced “infrasonic noise” that you do not hear, but your body feels. Sandler did not seem to think much of infrasound. “If I can’t hear it, my body in this case is going to have to suffer,” he said.
But Craig Nightingale, planning board member, was not going to dismiss the possibility that turbines will affect people through infrasound. He noted that his body was able to sense the plow trucks working to remove the snow that morning, even though he could not hear or see the trucks at work. If a big turbine goes up “next to me, I’ll have my four-bedroom house on a one acre lot up for sale,” he said.
Lothrop suggested the board “put the big [public land turbine] bylaw on hold.
“I’d recommend town meeting only vote on the private windmills,” Lothrop said. “Then, maybe in a year to two, we can come back for the big one. We’re clearly not ready to make a decision on the big one because no one knows half the answers.”
Wells urged the planning board to seek advice on turbines from someone other than the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, which has been funding the town’s work and studies on turbines.
The planning board “is one of the last stops the voters have to inject reason and common sense into this debate, and I strongly encourage you to seek out advice beyond what is given by MTC because I, as a citizen, do not have the faith that you will get honest and accurate advice from them to rely on in order to understand this very important issue,” he said.
He added that he and several abutters met in Hyannis with the MTC, a meeting that was attended by Town Administrator Sheila Vanderhoef and Jack Slavin, the town’s management information system director, who advises the energy committee.
“After that meeting, all I can say is my confidence in the energy committee and this town’s ability to get clear and unbiased information with respect to the suitability of a commercial wind turbine, as it relates to any potential impacts on nearby residences, is severely diminished,” Wells said.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” said Michael Cole, planning board member. “I do not think that bylaw is the answer … it’s not realistic for this town meeting,” he said, referring to the state bylaw Pelletier had hoped the board would have accepted.
“But I will say this,” Cole added. “The energy committee has been working on this for a lot longer than people appreciate. They’ve had public hearings and no one turned out. It’s just human nature. Until it reaches a critical mass, [then] people say “˜Hey! Maybe this is going to happen’ and they pay attention.”
Cole said he was concerned that “we’ll stop working on it if we concede it’s not going to happen by town meeting. It’s going to take several months of hard work, but we’ve got to keep doing it. We should continue. We should hold the next hearing on March 26, and keep working on this.”
Cole said he was not sure the planning board would be able to revise the private wind turbine bylaw in time for town meeting. “It’s got a ways to go, and I’m not sure we can do it, but we will try.”
The private bylaw “will prevent the willy-nilly growth of windmills on private property,” Sandler said. “I’m really not concerned about the public turbine bylaw because it is going to take so much time to get a turbine.”
By Marilyn Miller
The Cape Codder
2 March 2007
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