WELLFLEET – Five years of work to build a 400-foot-tall wind turbine on town-owned land overlooking White Crest Beach came to a crashing halt last night as selectmen voted unanimously to kill the project.
“I embrace alternative energy and it grieves me to be supporting the end of this project,” Selectman Jacqueline Wildes-Beebe said. “There is a lot of risk for too little gain.”
The risk, selectmen felt, was primarily to the character of that oceanfront stretch of towering bluffs and wind-stunted vegetation that symbolized the relatively undeveloped beauty that the Cape Cod National Seashore was first created a half century ago to protect.
The idea of placing a large industrial-sized turbine that required a 30-foot wide, paved access road was too much to consider, many said.
“It will change the landscape we have struggled to maintain for 50 years,” Wildes-Beebe said. “Many residents and visitors use and cherish it.”
Selectman Ira Wood called the turbine “environmentally disruptive” with “dubious economics for a small town.” He pointed out that Wellfleet has undertaken many recent capital projects, including a new fire station and municipal water system, and still has to deal with an aging police station. Taxpayers have seen double-digit increases in their property taxes and he didn’t think it was the right time for the town to be taking on an expensive project where the economics were still not clearly laid out.
Other concerns included how noise from the blades could affect those people living nearby, and whether the area was just too stormy.
Selectman Michael May, the board’s liaison to the town energy committee, which presented the project last night, said wind speeds at the harbormaster’s offices were clocked at 75 mph the other night. He wondered if the turbine might suffer damages in the more powerful storms that frequently slam their Atlantic-side beaches with higher wind speeds, possibly in excess of what the turbine can stand.
Despite the fact there appeared to be a lot of momentum among residents toward building the turbine as the project progressed from the formation of a committee in 2005 through town meeting votes, opponents gained traction in recent months. A big cheer went up from the audience when it was unanimously voted down.
“From the start it was obvious to us that it should never be part of this pristine area,” said Jim Rogers, a nonresident taxpayer who lives in Sandwich but owns property near the proposed turbine site. Rogers helped spearhead the anti-turbine effort. He said a lot of residents just weren’t aware of the size of the structure and of the amount of alteration to the land needed to build and maintain it.
The town has appropriated $290,000 toward design and site preparation work, but has only spent around $29,000 of it. Wood suggested they consider putting that toward municipal conservation efforts.
Selectmen and many in the audience applauded the efforts of the town’s energy committee.
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