SOMERSET – The town’s plan to erect a temporary wind gauge tower next to the reservoir – part of a project to see if wind power would be economical for Somerset – is on indefinite hold because four residents have gone to court to challenge the Zoning Board of Appeal’s approval of the test tower.
Board members voted 3 to 0 last month to allow construction of the 131-foot-high, 6-inch-wide galvanized steel meteorological pole on the old Cordeiro Family Farm property at 372 Whetstone Hill Rd. It would have wind gauges at the top, and 66 and 100 feet off the ground.
The readings are necessary to see if a wind turbine, similar to one at Portsmouth Abbey, could produce enough electricity for North Elementary School and the water treatment plant, the second biggest municipal consumer of electricity.
But Fairway Drive residents Joseph and Nancy Fingliss, and Rodney and Lisa Stafford have filed an appeal in Bristol County Superior Court challenging the Zoning Board’s decision.
That could put the project, as envisioned by the town, in limbo for at least a year. For example, in the unrelated case of massage therapist Jodiann Dunton, who is appealing the Zoning Board ruling prohibiting a banner in front of her office, her appeal was filed over 10 months ago and it still hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing.
Town officials have been pressing to move ahead on the wind power proposal because data must be collected for at least six months – and perhaps as long as a year – to determine whether there is enough wind at a site to make a turbine economical.
In addition, with so much interest in municipal wind power, there’s a backlog of orders for turbines, which would further delay any construction.
The wind gauge tower approved by the Zoning Board has already been purchased with a $40,000 grant and was ready to be erected.
At last month’s hearing, proponents tried to reassure neighbors that the tower would only be up for about a year and was guaranteed to be removed after the measurements were taken.
“This is a temporary structure to gather data, then it’s coming down,” said Bruce Aldrich, who is helping to coordinate the wind power project. “If we don’t have enough wind there, it’s all done.”
But Aldrich and other supporters have made it clear that the water department, because of its elevation and appetite for electricity, is a prime candidate for a turbine.
Joseph Fingliss, who is also the lawyer in the Kim Pelletier sexual harassment case against the town, said he wouldn’t support anything that might lead to having a turbine on the Cordeiro site.
“It will definitely be visible from my house as it would Mr. Stafford’s and many other people in the residential neighborhood,” he said. “It’s only going to lead to the possibility of the actual turbine itself being installed there.”
With an $800,000 house, said Fingliss, “I’m probably one of the highest taxpayers in all of town. I don’t want this in my backyard.”
“You’re going to start this process, and we’re not going to be able to stop it, because you’re affecting three neighborhoods,” said Rodney Stafford.
Fingliss said that contrary to the claims of wind power proponents, the Portsmouth Abbey turbine is noisy and unsightly.
Even the test tower, which he said could pose a public nuisance to schoolchildren who ventured onto the site, would be annoying because it should have a blinking warning light at the top so aircraft don’t run into it.
He said the town’s waste treatment plant on the Taunton River, where wind measurements would be available from the nearby Brayton Point Power Station, would be a better site.
However, that waste treatment plant does not have enough land for a turbine, according to Board of Selectman Chairman William Meehan, a wind power advocate.
“You’d have to go against the neighbors down there, too,” said Aldrich. “So whatever we do, [people will say] ‘Not in my back yard.’ That’s basically what it boils down to.
“And it’s not in your backyard,” he told Fingliss. “It’s southeast of your backyard.”
“No matter where you put it,” said Zoning Board member John Rosa, “there will be people opposed to it.”
By C. Eugene Emery Jr.
Journal Staff Writer
30 October 2007
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