CHARLESTOWN – It started at Town Hall, and ended three hours later at Charlestown Elementary School.
Fiery at times, Thursday’s public hearing on plans to erect two wind turbines off Route 1 drew fierce opposition from residents, who questioned the project’s impact on property values and the rural quality of life they moved to Charlestown to enjoy.
Plans by Michael Carlino and his father-in-law Larry LeBlanc, of Whalerock Renewable Energy LLC, would put two, 1.8- megawatt turbines on the north side of Route 1 between Kings Factory Road and East Quail Run.
The 262-foot towers would hold 171-foot blades turning as high as 410 feet – about as high as the Newport Bridge. Their scale would dwarf a smaller turbine at the New England Institute of Technology campus off Interstate 95 in Warwick.
Under a project timeline unveiled Thursday, the turbines would be up and running by next summer. But the project hinges on a power purchase agreement with National Grid, which hasn’t been finalized. Electricity generated at the site would be sold back to the utility, and the town would receive a 2-percent annual royalty from Whalerock’s gross earnings – revenues between $24,000 and $33,000.
Carlino’s initial presentation before a standing room-only crowd at Town Hall lasted about 40 minutes. With more than a dozen people standing in the hallway outside council chambers, council President Marjorie Frank announced that the Charlestown Elementary School’s gymnasium was available if the room exceeded its 100-person limit.
“We’ll move it if we have to,” she said.
An hour later, Charlestown police officers noted that the meeting had to be moved, and the hearing reconvened a half- hour later at the school – giving residents the chance to question the proposal.
“It seems to me this is a major impact for this piece of our scenic highway,” said Faith LaBossiere, a Realtor and former Planning Commission member. “I’m in favor of good energy policies and environmentally correct things, but this [the 2- percent royalty] seems like a small reward for the amount of impact this might have on the community.”
Ronald Areglado, of Partridge Run, questioned the project’s impact on local property values.
“The return on investment for many of us who live in that area is a no-win. It’s wind, but no-win for us,” he said. “…Anyone who thinks about wanting to sell a home in that area is going to deal with the reality of a 410-foot albatross. What are you going to tell those people who are going to buy this place? If we hang our clothes out there it’s an electric dryer for your clothing?”
Dinalyn Spears, community planner for the Narragansett Indian tribe, said the turbines would adversely affect elderly tribal members who will live 570 feet away from one of the spinning structures. Anearby housing development left unfinished for years is set to be finished with $2 million from the federal government in the near future.
“The tribe’s future plans are for our elderly to live there and the sight and continuous whooshing sound would impact their peaceful life,” Spears said.
Based on a noise analysis, Carlino said the tribe’s housing project would be exposed to the loudest level of turbine noise – 43.3 decibels, or the equivalent of “background noise in a small theater or conference room.”
Douglas Nettleton, of Blue Ridge Drive, said he moved to Charlestown after living next to a company in West Kingston that ran generators continuously day and night. For five years, he slept with a fan on to drown out the noise, he said.
“I lived with 50 decibels constantly,” Nettleton said. “I can tell you that with 50 decibels at night, you can have your windows closed and your TV on, and you’re going to be adjusting the volume on the TV … Sound travels at night.”
“You’re gonna hear this thing and it’s going to become part of your life,” he added. “It became such a part of my life, living with 50 decibels … that I got the point where I just didn’t want to come home at night.”
Bernard Bishop, an East Quail Run resident and a member of the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission, questioned what would happen if the turbines exceeded the noise limit set by town ordinance.
“Your [maximum level by] ordinance is 50 decibels,” he said. “What happens when it goes to 50 decibels? Do we shut the turbine down?”
While portions of the site would be cleared, Carlino said extra trees would be planted around the property to minimize the impacts of shadow flicker – a visual effect that occurs as the sun sets behind spinning blades.
“We heard about how trees would be planted to mitigate the flicker effect. If the towers are over 400 feet, are the trees 500 feet when they’re put in?” asked Eileen Lader, of Prosser Trail.
Lorraine Day, of Burdickville Road, said she would welcome Carlino’s wind turbines on her rural, 49-acre property on the north side of town, next to Riverside Farm.
“Just in case this doesn’t work for him here, consider my place. I’ll put it up,” she said. “My house is 1,000 feet off the road, so there is nobody nearby, I wouldn’t mind the ‘whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.’ I kind of like that sound. Because it looks like dollar signs to me.”
Joe Dolock, an independent council candidate who lives next to the project site on East Quail Run, said town ordinances require helium balloons to be flown at the site 3 weeks prior to the public hearing, giving residents a look at how tall the turbines would be. Both Hahn-Morris and Building and Zoning Official John Matuza, however, disagreed – noting that balloons are only required for telecommunication towers, not wind turbines.
The public hearing on Whalerock’s proposal has been continued until Oct. 25, at the Charlestown Elementary School at 6:30 p.m.
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