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Residents appeal KHS wind turbine project

Four families have filed an appeal of the decision by the Kodiak Island Borough Planning and Zoning Commission to allow a 60-foot wind turbine for educational purposes on the playground of Kodiak Middle School.

The families include Cindy and George Aquino, Ben and Hazel Ardinger, Don and Sue Norton, and John and Lauri Whiddon.

The Kodiak High School wind turbine project would allow students from middle school to college level to have hands-on learning opportunities in the field of renewable energy. It could have applications across the public school curriculum from science and technology to mathematics and maintenance. It also is an important component to a certification program being developed at Kodiak College.

In their appeal, the families say they fully support the concept of the wind turbine project. However, they list several objections and what they say are unaddressed questions about the project as the grounds of their appeal.

John Whiddon, who compiled the families’ objections to craft the appeal, said the main question is whether this project is right for a residential neighborhood.

“There were enough issues there that we wanted the borough to go and take another look at it,” Whiddon said. “We felt strongly that the impacts to our neighborhood warranted further review.”

Among impacts listed in the appeal are the effects of turbine noise on the surrounding houses, which could potentially exist 24 hours a day, with housing less than 150 feet from the proposed site. The appeal also said studies had concluded that noise from the equipment could have adverse impacts on special needs children like those who live in the neighborhood.

In the planning and zoning meeting when the site for the wind turbine was approved, borough associate planner Duane Dvorak said the turbine was fairly quiet.

“As the wind picks up, the actual wind noise basically blocks out a lot of the turbine noise you would hear,” he said.

The neighbors, however, worry the noise would be amplified by a southeasterly wind toward the neighborhood.

Other objections have to do with the safety of placing a turbine in the current middle school playground. The families wonder what safety precautions will be put in place to keep children away from the equipment, apart from fencing, especially when the playground is unsupervised.

Ice accumulation on the turbine is another safety concern and the appealing families don’t credit the argument that the curved fiberglass or composite blades of the wind turbine would shed less ice.

“Generally, when considering the aviation environment and rotation blades, ice will build up on a blade, regardless of color or material composition,” the appeal states.

They also wonder how much of the playground will now be off limits, especially at times when the fence is pulled back due to ice on the turbine and how this will impact the middle school students.

“Were the parents of middle school children included in the public hearing notice mail out?” the appeal document asks. “If so what was the consensus opinion?”

Additionally, the families worry that the 60-foot wind turbine, with 12-foot diameter blades, will feature too prominently in the landscape of the neighborhood, and along with the noise and safety concerns, will drive down housing values.

Whiddon said it wasn’t the neighbors’ intention to make a fuss, but they felt it was important enough to speak up.

The appeal asks that the Kodiak Island Borough School District address the unanswered questions the neighbors have and determine a suitable location for the wind turbine project that will not conflict with residential needs.

The appeal would normally be handled by the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly acting as a board of adjustment. However, since this project is on borough land, the case will be referred to the Alaska office of Administrative Hearings held before an administrative judge to avoid a conflict of interest.