More than 300 residents – an unprecedented number – turned out at Tuesday’s Planning Commission hearing to rail against a proposed 427-foot wind turbine at Stamp Farm on South County Trail.
“This is a first for me,” said Planning Commission Chairman Richard Pastore. “I’ve never had more than 50 people at a meeting.”
North Kingstown’s two turbines – one approved at North Kingstown Green and the other proposed by Stamps Farm and Wind Energy Development LLC – have fueled controversy around North Kingstown, leading to the large turnout Tuesday night. Of the evening’s 18 speakers, all opposed the turbines and questioned the town’s newly-minted wind energy ordinance, passed on Sept. 27.
“Do the right thing. Stand for something. Make the right choice … and deny this application,” former Town Councilman Ed Cooney told the commission.
After the ordinance’s passing and the proposals of the two turbines, opposing residents banded together, creating No Residential Wind NK, a group calling for the town to deny the Stamp application and establish a moratorium on all future wind energy projects.
Wind Energy Development LLC brought two expert witnesses to testify Tuesday, one of whom was Dr. Mark Roberts, from Chicago, who refuted the claims made by New York physician Nina Pierpont regarding the turbines. Residents have cited Pierpont’s self-published book, “Wind Turbine Syndrome,” in which she asserts the low-frequency noise, called infrasound, emitted by turbines can cause such maladies as dizziness, nausea and insomnia. Roberts, however, said her book had not been properly peer reviewed and stated that wind turbine syndrome is not “recognized in the medical community as a true disease.”
Commission member Paul Dion, however, questioned Roberts’ downplaying of the alleged disease, comparing it to when AIDS was not recognized as a disease.
Following Roberts’ testimony was surveyor Samuel White, Jr. whose surveys found that the Exeter/North Kingstown town line was actually 80 feet further west than initially mapped by Wind Energy Development. Thus, the developer was able to move the site of the turbine further west, away from South County Trail and residences on the east side of the highway.
The move was still not enough to quell the residents. Aside from the 18 speakers, a few audience members yelled out to commission members and other speakers. Testimony addressed concerns such as the turbine’s “gawk factor” and traffic, setbacks, proximity to the upcoming Wickford Junction train station and various health concerns. For many, the lack of hard data on the subject was more troubling.
“We’re not experts,” said Jeff Zucchi, a member of No Residential Wind NK. “What we do know is that we don’t know a lot about these things. We just don’t know if these things are going to hurt anyone.”
Another hot topic was the new ordinance’s conflict with the town’s comprehensive plan, with several speakers angered that the comprehensive plan was not changed prior to the adoption of the new ordinance. According to Pastore, the comprehensive plan is under revision.
State Rep. Larry Ehrhardt, R-North Kingstown, told the commission both he and state Rep. Doreen Costa, R- North Kingstown, had met with others at the Statehouse that day and look to take up the issue at the state level.
For Ehrhardt, the public outcry over the turbines shows eerie parallels to a previous situation, hinting at the town’s fight against a proposed incinerator at Quonset.
“Not since those times have I seen that sort of enthusiasm,” Ehrhardt said.
That enthusiasm may spill into a courtroom. The Town Council is facing a lawsuit filed by attorney John Revens on behalf of Richard Schartner, Sr., whose farm abuts the Stamps’, in response to the approval of the new wind energy ordinance.
Wind Energy Development LLC and CEO Mark DePasquale have appealed the Zoning Board’s unanimous denial of the first application for a turbine at Stamp Farm in August. The Zoning Board determined the size of the turbine was too excessive for the site.
The Planning Commission will determine a date for the next hearing on the Stamp Farm turbine on Jan. 18
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