Barnstable County officials may already have their first controversial issue of 2011 lined up.
The Falmouth Planning Board has submitted to the Barnstable County Board of County Commissioners a formal request to have the Upper Cape declared a District of Critical Planning Concern (DCPC), a first step toward granting the Cape Cod Commission regulatory authority over land-based wind turbine development.
The county commissioners’ office received the letter the afternoon of December 8. The commissioners did not formally review it at last week’s meeting, and according to Mary L. (Pat) Flynn, a Falmouth selectman and chairman of the county commissioners, the board will not take up the issue until next month at the earliest.
Ms. Flynn added that before the commissioners take any action on the request, they want to hear from boards of selectmen and town councilors in every Cape town since the DCPC request could be expanded to include the entire region.
If the commissioners formally recommend a DCPC for wind energy projects, a limited moratorium on all such projects within the defined area would go into immediate effect. If approved by the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates, the moratorium would be in effect for up to a year while the Cape Cod Commission developed regulations.
Ms. Flynn said letters have gone out to town officials across the Cape, but she got a sense of how heated the discussion could become at last week’s meeting of the Cape and Islands Selectmen and Councilors’ Association meeting. Brewster selectman Edward Lewis called the anti-turbine sentiment seen from towns such as Bourne and Falmouth “hogwash” coming from a “vocal minority,” and predicted that his town would not participate in a regional DCPC.
There has already been stiff opposition to a proposed seven-turbine project in Bourne and continuous outcry from Falmouth residents living near a town-owned turbine on Blacksmith Shop Road, who have pinned a variety of health issues on the noise generated by the turbine.
Ms. Flynn said that an attorney representing the Falmouth residents blamed their health problems on an “aerodynamic atmospheric disturbance” caused by the spinning of the blades. Mr. Lewis dismissed that notion, stating that “lawyers can be paid to say whatever their clients want.”
The Falmouth Planning Board letter stated that there seems to be an “unknown quality” of the turbine’s operation that is causing the health problems.
Assembly: DCDC Unnecessary
The issue came up again last week at Wednesday’s Assembly meeting, the body that would approve a final DCPC designation – although the delegates seemed willing to hold off on such a move in order to let the Cape Cod Commission finish work on creating new standards for wind turbine siting.
Julia C. Taylor, Falmouth’s delegate, related a conversation she had the previous week with Paul J. Niedzwiecki, executive director of the Cape Cod Commission regarding the Commission’s work on wind turbine regulations.
The Assembly last month rejected proposed review standards for land-based wind turbines, citing a lack of technical detail and standards that perhaps did not go far enough in protecting the public interest. Those standards would have amended the energy section of the county’s Regional Policy Plan (RPP) and established minimum performance standards for safety, noise from the turbine’s operation, and “shadow flicker” from a turbine’s spinning blades.
The CCC has been reviewing those standards, and Ms. Taylor said Mr. Niedzwiecki “seemed confident that the Commission was in a position to come back quicker than we thought…he was hoping for February.”
Mr. Niedzwiecki told Ms. Taylor that the CCC could add review thresholds to the revised proposal, an element that was absent from the original draft; it did not include standards for a mandatory CCC review based solely on turbine size, location, capacity, et cetera.
Any review of a wind turbine project would have been conducted as part of a larger Commission review based on a discretionary referral by the town or developers, or if the turbine was part of a project that triggered Development of Regional Impacts thresholds.
Ms. Taylor said there would also be a “tweaking of the standards” from the original draft, and some rough outlines of the content of two technical bulletins attached to the regulations. Those documents would flesh out details of the new regulations relevant to the RPP’s affordable housing and energy sections –
Mr. Niedzwiecki explained to the Assembly last month that technical bulletins are typically not drafted until after new regulations have been approved, but many delegates were hesitant to approve anything without finished bulletins.
“Maybe it would not be the technical bulletin, but we’d have an idea of what direction that was going,” Ms. Taylor said. Further, she said Mr. Niedzwiecki indicated he was open to forming a working group involving members of the public, which would have a role in developing the bulletins’ final content. “I thought that sounded great.”
“It’s nice that he says that he’s going to do it, but is he going to do it?” Richard Anderson, Bourne’s delegate asked. Mr. Niedzwiecki, who was in the room but did not speak, said simply, “Yes.”
Ms. Taylor said that if the CCC makes those adjustments, “I wouldn’t see the Assembly needing to go forward with a proposal for a DCPC.” Although the moratorium that would come with a DCPC designation had “a certain appeal,” Ms. Taylor said it could ultimately prove less effective in addressing the issue than letting the Commission complete its work on the new RPP standards.
Thomas F. Keyes, Sandwich’s delegate, first pitched the idea of a Cape-wide DCPC for wind turbines last month during the Assembly’s discussion on the RPP amendments, but last week he reversed his position and agreed that letting the Commission do its job unhindered was the better approach.
“I think that’s the best method,” he said. “At this time the best thing we can do is wait for our county’s paid professionals to come back in with something that I think, hopefully, we’ll be a lot comfortable with, and that’s the best route than to go with the DCPC right now.”
He added that if the Commission’s new draft regulations do not satisfy the Assembly’s and the public’s concerns, “the DCPC can come back up” for consideration. “The option is still there.”