Newburyport – There’s no doubt that Mark Richey had nothing but good and green intentions when he erected an industrial wind turbine to generate electricity for his wood-working factory in the city’s industrial park. And there’s no question that city leaders who ushered in that project – first with a wind turbine ordinance and then with a Zoning Board of Appeals special permit – believed they were putting Newburyport in the lead of local communities that support alternative and renewable forms of energy.
But now that it’s up and running, it seems clear that both Richey and the city failed to fully investigate the potential impact of the 292-foot-high turbine on the Back Bay neighborhood. And it’s the residents of that neighborhood who are going to pay for that mistake.
This week, more than a dozen homeowners turned out for the City Council meeting to explain what it’s like to live next door to the huge, high-tech windmill that is so dramatically out of scale with everything surrounding it. Some described an incessant hum from the generator; others talked about a continual whooshing sound created as the blades cut through the air. In the afternoons, residents say their homes are hit with a shadow and light flicker; in the evenings, some catch a red strobe-light effect in their windows. Some say they have trouble sleeping and one resident reported that the turbine interrupts his television reception.
Residents raised those exact concerns months ago before the turbine was built, but their worries were dismissed by a stack of reports and experts who said those problems, if they existed at all, would be so insignificant, that no one would notice.
And what’s troubling about all the experts and turbine proponents being so far off the mark on these issues is the fact that most were equally dismissive about concerns the neighbors have raised about safety. Over the past several years, as more and more industrial wind turbines have been erected, there have been an increasing number of failures that include blade throws, oil leaks, fires and, in some cases, a complete collapse of the towers.
In light of all of that, the City Council unanimously agreed this week to send the city’s wind turbine ordinance back to its Planning and Development Subcommittee for review. It is the very least the city can do. The next step may be to answer the concerns of homeowners who have an eye-level view of the head of the turbine from their windows and back porches. Most would probably agree that those homes have lost some of their market value, and the city should re-assess those properties and adjust their taxes accordingly.
And one other thing about those homeowners – throughout the wind turbine debate, residents of the Back Bay neighborhood have been accused of being a NIMBY crowd that supports green initiatives except when it comes to their backyard. Although the residents who spoke at the council meeting were upset with what’s happened to their neighborhood and angry with the city for failing to listen to them and protect their homes, they were not there this week for their backyards. Just about everyone who spoke this week was resigned to the fact that the wind turbine is a reality that isn’t going to go away. Back Bay residents are speaking out now to make sure that no other neighborhood in the city is forced to live with the problems and worries of a wind turbine in their back yard.
They understand and agree that wind power is part of the solution to the country’s challenge to find alternative sources of energy. What they want in Newburyport is an ordinance that protects the entire community with adequate setback and site requirements that take into consideration the health and safety of residents, no matter what part of the city they live in.
And there’s nothing NIMBY about that.
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