SCITUATE – The Town Council voted to reject a proposal drafted by the Wind Turbine Ordinance Committee that would potentially allow wind turbines in residential neighborhoods following a public hearing on the matter at Scituate High School auditorium Tuesday night.
In a three-tiered motion proposed by Robert Budway, Town Council president, the council also voted to amend the zoning ordinance to, “Specifically preclude wind turbines in excess of 36 feet until such time as the ordinance may be further amended to allow such based upon demonstration of wind turbine efficacy and safety.” The town currently limits a structure in its rural residential zone to 36 feet in height.
To create a mechanism for determining the efficacy and safety of wind turbines, the council voted to appoint a committee comprised of representatives from the Zoning Board, the Plan Commission, the Town Council, a building or zoning official, and two members of the public. According to the motion that passed unanimously, with Councilman John Winfield recusing himself, the newly formed committee will, “Meet at least semi-annually for the purpose of monitoring the development of wind turbines and to issue a semi-annual report regarding the efficacy and safety of wind turbines or other alternative energy sources.”
Budway opened the public hearing with a request that all those in favor of amending the zoning ordinance to establish a plan that would allow the erection of personal and industrial wind turbines in town to speak from one microphone, and all those opposed to speak from another on the other side of the auditorium. “That way we’ll be sure to give a fair amount of time to each side,” he said.
Several residents spoke out in favor of establishing an ordinance that would allow for the development of wind generated energy sources, including Dennis Prior, a 40-year resident of Trimtown Road. He said that resistance to change was behind some of the opposition to the wind turbines, and noted that many of the changes in the town’s rural landscape through the years have come about in the face of equal resistance. “I remember when McDonald’s was coming to town. The uproar was so great you’d have thought our children would never eat a healthy meal again. But we’re Scituate, we adapt, it’s what we do.”
Justin Gaffney, of Ide Road, echoed these sentiments.
“What do you think they said 100 years ago? Don’t pave these roads? Don’t put up these telephone poles; they’re going to look terrible. Probably, but they still had to go ahead with it,” he said. “It’s the same with cell towers. No one wants them, but we all complain when we can’t get cell phone service.”
He added, “Wind energy is green, renewable energy, and it’s much better for us than fossil fuels. Think green. We can’t keep killing the earth.”
Though all speakers were instructed not to discuss a pending Zoning Board application by Gloria McConville, owner of Sunset Orchards at 244 Gleaner Chapel Road, for a special use permit and a dimensional variance to erect a 492-foot wind turbine on her 20-acre property, some of the testimony given at the hearing touched on the application that prompted a moratorium on all turbines in the town until April 2011.
Al Bettencourt, executive director of the Rhode Island Farm Bureau, attended the hearing and urged the Town Council to establish a wind energy-friendly policy that would help local farmers in their role as stewards of open space. According to Bettencourt, modern farmers run businesses, “That aren’t your father’s farm anymore. If you want to keep farmers in business, you have to help them find supplementary income.”
Opponents of the wind turbine ordinance as proposed cited among their objections potential health concerns, decreased property values, quality of life issues, and a condition called “Shadow flicker.”
“Serious health issues have occurred when wind turbines are placed too close to residents,” said Hilltop Drive resident Gerry Mailhot. “Shadow flicker occurs when the sun light is chopped up by the turbine blades and provides the surrounding residents with a strobe light effect of darkness and light; the frequency is determined by the wind. This has been determined to cause seizures, headaches and stress.”
Mailhot also said that the wording in the proposed ordinance was too vague and left the town vulnerable to legal loopholes and property owners vulnerable to predatory developers.
“The ordinance allows for outside commercial developers to construct, manage, and profit from the power station,” Mailhot said. “These developers would never be exposed to any of these health hazards and inconveniences. Only the residents living too close would suffer from any ill effects and infringement on the quality of life.”
Mailhot’s wife, Diane, said the family lives “in the fall zone” of the proposed turbine at Sunset Orchards, and asked the board to tighten the loose language in the proposed ordinance before presenting it for further consideration. She noted what she thought were particular areas of weakness.
“Is there a hazardous material clean-up plan for lubricants and oils used in the operation of the turbine? What if there’s a spill, what do we do? And what is the evacuation plan if something goes wrong. Are we just supposed to run like hell? I don’t know, and I think there should be a plan for that,” she said.
While a spokesperson for McConville, who declined to give a name, said that the family had hoped the hearing would produce a “reasonable ordinance to allow wind turbines in Scituate, particularly on farms,” it’s not clear if the rejection of the ordinance will affect McConville’s application, which was submitted prior to the moratorium and the establishment of any zoning amendment with regard to wind turbines.
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