COLEBROOK—The owners of a luxe bed-and-breakfast are attempting to use their property’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places to block the construction of a pair of wind tower farms near their business, claiming that the 400-foot-tall structures would have an adverse effect
Stella and Michael Somers, the proprietors of Rock Hall Luxe Lodging, purchased their property in 2005 to use as a summer home, but turned it into a hospitality business in late 2008.
Built in 1912, the Mediterraneon revival structure is the only surviving building north of the Mason-Dixon line made by renowned architect Addison Mizner, who built most of his structures in Florida. The property was listed last July on the National Register of Historic Places.
That registration may prevent the towers from being built. According to the Somers’ attorney, Emily Gianquinto of Reid & Reige in Hartford, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has a regulation that prohibits the construction of any telecommunication equipment over 300 feet tall within one and a half miles of any historic structure if it will affect the structure’s integrity.
“It’s their policy that they use to review projects in order to comply with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act,” she said.
Mrs. Somers said that she and her husband are unhappy with the proposal from West Hartford-based BNE Energy, Inc., which would place six towers on two sites in Colebrook—one a mile and a half from their home, and one on the same road. A similar proposal by BNE in the New Haven County town of Prospect has met with local opposition.
BNE Energy has suggested that the turbines could, in fact, bring tourism to the area, noting that the Jiminy Peak ski resort in Hancock, Mass., has seen an increase in tourism since adding wind turbines. Ms. Somers rejects that claim.
“No one who is going to go to a luxury lodging and upscale bed-and-breakfast will choose something that, as BNE put it, sounds like there’s a large appliance nearby,” said Ms. Somers, who is also the secretary for Fair Wind CT, a citizens group that opposes the unregulated construction of the wind towers in Colebrook. “I certainly don’t want to live under those conditions, and I know people will not pay to stay in those conditions.”
Like Fair Wind CT, Ms. Somers is in favor of a moratorium being placed on commercial wind turbines in the state until the state legislature can adopt regulations on where they should be placed—a sentiment echoed by former Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. Ms. Somers added that she had visited a wind turbine farm in New Hampshire that was located on 1,400 acres of property (as opposed to the 80 acres on Colebrook’s two sites), and found the turbines to be as disruptive as she had thought.
“Even at a mile away, you could have a conversation, but it was like being a mile away from LaGuardia or JFK,” she said. “It was, of course, dependent on how the wind was that day. On that particular day we could have a conversation, but it was like a steady airplane going by. It’s not appropriate for a residential neighborhood.”
Currently, Connecticut has no regulations regarding the placement of wind towers, nor does Colebrook or most towns in the state. Wind towers fall under the jurisdiction of the Connecticut Siting Council, which oversees the construction of cellular towers and all other telecommunication equipment in the state.
The Rock Hall owners applied for and were granted intervening party status for the BNE application, which would allow them to present witnesses, cross-examine participants and to pre-file testimony and questions.
The siting council, which has never reviewed an application for a commercial wind tower before, has been the target of criticism in Litchfield County for the manner in which it conducts its hearings for cell towers.
However, Ms. Somers said she is confident the siting council would treat the wind tower applications with care at their hearings on March 22 and 23.
“My fervent hope is that they will not [be dismissive],” she said. “I don’t think that they’ve acted in a way that would seem they are not taking this as an important, precedent-setting matter. Whatever people think about cell towers and their siting, this is different from a tower. It’s three or four times the size, and makes noise like the sound of an airplane.”
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