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Colebrook wind power foes say it’s not ‘not in my backyard’

COLEBROOK – FairWindCT’s opposition to the proposed wind farms straddling Route 44 does not, according to president Joyce Hemingson, stem from just their location. Rather, the goal is to establish some sort of regulations, before opening the floodgates. They are not alone in this goal.

Hemingson, a Colebrook resident since 1972, joined forces with Sukey Wagner and Stella Somers not long after hearing of BNE Energy’s application to build three wind turbines on Rock Hall Road in November. Their non-profit organization mirrors another group opposing the Flagg Hill Road project, which started years ago when BNE Energy built a test tower on a parcel of land there.

“They had a group with a Web site and were sending out emails,” said Hemingson, “so they were the original pioneers.”

Each of the two projects is planned to generate 4.8 megawatts of power, larger than a concurrent project in Prospect. That project will serve as the model for Colebrook, since its application was filed with the Connecticut Siting Council earlier. The council ruled at their Jan. 6 meeting that Save Prospect, a group opposing BNE Energy’s proposed wind turbines there, would have party status, as well as scheduling two public meetings in Prospect for February.

Meanwhile, FairWindCT has voiced their viewpoint to the Connecticut Siting Council, sending a letter to chairman Daniel Caruso as well as a litany of other bodies, such as land trusts in Salisbury, Winchester, Norfolk and Kent, the First Selectmen of 10 different towns and Winchester mayor Candy Perez, as well as new Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, Senators Joseph Lieberman and Richard Blumenthal, and Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection acting commissioner Amey Marrello.

“Essential questions need answers,” said the letter. “The public and its elected representatives deserve to be heard on the issues, before acres of forestland are cleared, gravel roads built, and wetlands destroyed to accommodate wind farms in residential areas.”

Save Prospect’s Tim Reilly said at the Connecticut Siting Council meeting that they have been speaking to members of FairWindCT on a regular basis, making the case that the current regulations – which regard just air and water safety – are not enough. Both Save Prospect and FairWindCT support a moratorium on residential wind turbine development until such regulations can be crafted.

“There’s a sense of lawlessness because there are no regulations,” said Hemingson. “There are no state regulations for turbines this large, because they’re too big for local organizations.”

Both groups have found sympathetic ears. Save Prospect approached local state legislators Vicky Nardello and Joan Hartley, who agreed to sponsor a bill imposing such a moratorium. Meanwhile, members of both groups – as well as the president of Cape Cod-based Save Our Seashore, which is involved in Massachusetts wind projects – met with then-Connecticut Attorney General Blumenthal about their concerns on Jan. 3, just days before Blumenthal took office as the state’s junior United States Senator. Blumenthal agreed with both parties that regulations need to be strengthened.

“Wind turbine farms may be well-intended, but should also be well-sited,” said Blumenthal in a press release. “Green Energy will undermine its purpose if we fail to develop sound standards to protect against damage to the environment and quality of life.”

Hemingson said the meeting lasted approximately half an hour, and that Blumenthal was agreeable about their location. Blumenthal’s office noted that BNE Energy has a third project in the works in North Canaan, one that has already been rejected by local officials. The Prospect and Colebrook wind farms generate enough energy that their final decision will be made by the Connecticut Siting Council, not their respective town governments.

“We basically started getting educated fast in November and December,” said Hemingson, “to have something like this so close to our home.”

Hemingson noted that one of the turbines in the Flagg Hill Road project will be approximately 800 feet from the house of Robin Hirtle. One of the members of the Flagg Hill Road group, Hirtle was granted party status by the Connecticut Siting Council in light of her complaints about the project. Among those complaints are the usage of a private driveway by BNE Energy vehicles, the proximity of the turbines to her home, as well as concerns about the project’s impact on a wetlands easement in place.

BNE Energy opposed her application for party status, but their petition was unanimously rejected by the Connecticut Siting Council. Another pair of applications for party status, filed by Stella and Michael Somers, has yet to be decided. The Somers family owns Rock Hall, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the only remaining Addison Mizner-designed residence in the Northeast. The bed and breakfast fates back to 1912, and – according to their request for party status in both the Rock Hall Road and Flagg Hill Road projects – its status on the register was not acknowledged by BNE Energy.

“In fact, the proposed facilities will substantially and specifically affect Stella and Michael Somers because Wind Colebrook North [Rock Hall Road] will be located within one-half mile of Rock Hall and Wind Colebrook South [Flagg Hill Road] will be located within 1.5 miles of Rock Hall,” said Emily Gianquinto, a Hartford-based attorney who represents FairWindCT.

As enumerated in the petition for party status, the Somerses seek not only the rejection of BNE Energy’s application for the pair of projects, but also a Council-imposed moratorium “on all industrial wind generation projects in areas zoned residential or which are located within 1.5 miles of historic structures until appropriate laws and regulations may be put in place by the State, the Council and local regulatory bodies.”

Gianquinto was on hand to see how the Prospect project plays out as a reference to how proceedings in Colebrook will play out. Additionally, Hemingson added that she would attend the Prospect public meetings to see what will happen.

“We’ll learn a lot about what to expect for Colebrook,” said Hemingson.