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Barrington High School not ruled out as turbine site

BARRINGTON – The School Committee last night declined to reverse its approval of a wind turbine at the high school, but some members made it clear that they would prefer to have the 328-foot structure at the alternative site, at the end of Legion Way.

A dozen opponents of the high school site were at the meeting to ask the committee to immediately declare the high school off limits, and they presented a 21-page report that, they contended, proves that the turbine would pose a physical danger and noise hazard to students.

But committee members said they wanted to review the report and hear counter-arguments from the town’s renewable energy committee, which has asserted that the device is safe. It has voted to give preference to the alternative site, which would be 1,000 feet from any house and have stronger winds.

If the critics turn out to be correct, “we absolutely can say no [to the high school site] and we are going to keep this veto in our hip pocket,” said School Committee member Jim Hasenfus.

The Town Council has made it clear that it also favors the Legion Way site, but it has said it will seek requests for proposals for both locations, just in case the Legion Way location turns out to be impractical.

Ronald D. Russo, a critic, said that means “the high school turbine location is very much alive, unless you act to prevent it.”

He said it’s irrefutable that, at 190 feet, the school would be too close to the turbine, which would weigh over 100 tons. He said the noise from the device would impose “a negative risk” on students.

He said the state recommends a setback of 738 feet. Fuhrlander, the manufacturer, suggests 1,500 feet. “The safety concerns are very real. … In the last 10 years, there have been over 50 documented instances of structural failure.”

“I’m particularly concerned if the fall zone is larger than what is recommended by industry standards, or the manufacturer,” said Hasenfus. “I think you’re making some very strong points. I think this thing is going to Legion Way or it’s not going to be built.”

Debate over the windmill has been plagued by undocumented assertions, with the town relying, in part, on assurances from the manufacturer, and the critics citing alleged dangers without offering any real evidence for key arguments about health and safety.

For example, the 21-page report submitted to the School Committee last night relies heavily on the claims of a pediatrician who apparently has yet to publish any research on the alleged health risks of wind turbines in a major peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Committee member Amy Oberg said she would like to see copies of the original research cited in the report. Russo and others said they would provide that.

Markus Earley, of Upland Way, said there is a broader concern: too many issues surrounding the windmill have not been studied.

He said insurance questions have not been addressed, direct wind measurements have not been taken, and members of the town wind power committee “have not addressed the safety issues at all.”

“The whole process has been putting the cart before the horse,” he said. “We don’t need a request for proposals, we need a feasibility study.”

Resident Elizabeth Warren said she is concerned about the way a turbine at the high school will change the town’s character.

“When you come down the Wampanoag Trail, the white church is the landmark of Barrington,” she said, referring to the Barrington Congregational Church at Massasoit Avenue and County Road.

The tip of the windmill’s blades would be more than three times taller than the church’s steeple.

“I have a visual objection to that,” she said. “I don’t want to be called Wind Town.”

Beyond that, she said, “I don’t want to lose a church tower from a blade that lets loose. And you can never say never. … This is one more reason it’s the wrong location.”

By C. Eugene Emery Jr.
Journal Staff Writer

The Providence Journal

16 July 2008