BRIMFIELD – After hearing three hours of mostly opposing comments from residents, selectmen last night voted unanimously not to accept $30,000 from First Wind, the company hoping to build several turbines in town.
The funds would have been used to study the financial impact of a wind energy facility on West Mountain, near Steerage Rock.
About 160 people attended the public hearing at Brimfield Elementary School, most speaking in opposition to the project that would site eight to 10, 400-foot wind turbines on the ridge just north of Route 20, and expressing concern that taking the money would allow First Wind to move closer to its goal.
Board members said if they had decided to accept the money, the town would not have been bound to any future agreements, nor would it have been forced to allow the turbines to be constructed; rather, the money would have helped fund research about the project.
Health Board Chairman Richard Costa and other local officials visited a facility at Mars Hill, Maine, and said he now believes the project would be wrong for Brimfield.
He said residents in Maine told him stories of health issues, decreased property values, and turbine noise difficult to tolerate.
“I don’t really think that this project would be a good fit,” he said, to rousing applause.
Police Chief Charles T. Kuss also went to Maine and said the turbines there, not as tall as the ones planned for Brimfield, were visible from 40 miles away.
He said the folks he spoke with, most of whom favored the project, “did have some economic tie to the industry.”
But some residents of Mars Hill are suing First Wind over the project.
Dr. Elizabeth Smola said she is concerned because recent studies show serious health risks associated with living near wind turbines and being exposed to very low-frequency noise, which is inaudible.
The risks can cause thickening of the heart wall, balance disorders and memory loss, and most often affects fetuses, children and younger people, she said.
In Brimfield, some residents said they favor the turbines and a move toward green energy. One man who lives on St. George Road said he finds the turbines “elegant looking.”
A few residents said that, while they favor green energy, they oppose the turbines in Brimfield, where they would be within 2,000 feet of 79 homes.
“I’m a tree-hugging liberal,” said Anton Prenneis of Brookfield Road, adding that he was initially excited about wind power until he researched what was proposed for Brimfield.
He said as a bluegrass fan who knows the best songs are written about towns devastated by coal mines, “I don’t want to see that happen to the town.”
Dale LaBonte said she drives a Prius, lives in a passive solar home and has no dishwasher, but opposes the wind facility because it will affect the stillness she enjoys while walking her dog at night.
Many were concerned about the “flicker effect” which causes a strobe-like light at certain times of the day. Some, including Doris Carlson, who runs a riding stable on Brookfield Road, were concerned about having to deal with that at their homes.
Eric J. Jaeger, who called himself a “retired reformed opera singer,” said he would, if needed, “sing ‘The Impossible Dream,’ over and over to stop this” project from moving forward.
Clad in a shirt that read “Mafia Go Home,” John Mortarelli vocally opposed the project, saying he’s done research and questioned whether the company is viable and the source of its funds.
He said the town’s bylaws prohibit the towers and that should be enough to quash the project.
But there is concern over Gov. Deval Patrick’s support for a law that would allow the state to have oversight when it comes to siting wind turbines.
Some fear the proposed law would take away local control and make local bylaws that prohibit the towers moot.
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