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Apply ‘letter of town bylaw’ on turbine decision  

Credit:  By Charles Dale, Wicked Local Cohasset, www.wickedlocal.com 18 February 2011 ~~

My name is Charles Dale. I live at 40 Turkey Hill Lane in Hingham with my wife and three children, ages 9, 11 and 13. Our home is approximately one half mile from the site where the Trustees of Reservations, and its recently formed for profit affiliate, Conservation Wind, LP propose to build a 410 foot tall, 1.8 Mega Watt “wind energy conversion facility” – a giant wind mill. The Trustees of Reservations have filed an Application with the Cohasset Planning Board seeking a Special Permit to build this industrial wind turbine on 314 acres of conservation land in the Whitney Thayer Woods. Because the land on which the turbine will be built is located in Cohasset, the Town of Hingham and its residents have had little or no voice in the permitting process even though almost 75 percent of the land within a one mile radius of the project is located in Hingham and even though the only access route to the site is up Leavitt Street and Turkey Hill Lane in Hingham. In fact, the Trustees propose to build a 450-foot (paved) extension to Turkey Hill Lane, so that the 142 tons of metal and 1,000 tons of concrete required to build the turbine can be transported to the site. It is safe to say that most of the negative effects of this project will be felt in Hingham. Yet, the Cohasset Planning Board will decide whether the project should receive a permit.

The Trustees’ Application is riddled with half-truths and misinformation. Unfortunately, at least 4 out of 5 members of the Cohasset Planning Board appear more than willing to overlook each and every morsel of misinformation so that they may bestow upon the residents of Cohasset their token contribution to green energy. The Planning Board is now deliberating the merits of the Application after a public comment period that lasted only 48 days. Many residents of Hingham (including me) and the Hingham Board of Selectmen only learned of the Application on Dec. 6. Despite our plea for more time to evaluate and comment upon the Application, and despite a more formal written request from the Hingham Board of Selectmen, the Cohasset Planning Board closed the public comment period on Dec. 15 (only 11 days after we learned of the Application), thereby denying its Hingham neighbors a meaningful opportunity to gather and submit information that would create a balanced record from which the Planning Board could make an informed decision.

In their poorly disguised attempt to appear neutral about the project, several Planning Board members have reassured us that this is not a popularity contest. According to Chairman Al Moore, the Board will “apply the letter of the Town’s wind turbine by-law” to the record of their proceedings (a lopsided recorded, at best), and arrive at an objective result based on a dispassionate review of the record. Anyone who has observed the Planning Board hearings on this Application, or who may have observed similar proceedings on a prior failed application to build 2 turbines at the former Cohasset landfill, is well aware that the Cohasset Planning Board is determined to give the Town what they claim its residents want – a wind turbine at any cost.

Despite my cynicism about the Planning Board and its bias in favor of this project, I am prepared to reserve final judgment and am willing to take the Board at its word, that it will apply the letter of the Town’s Wind By-Law to the record before them. If the Planning Board faithfully discharges its responsibility, I am confident that the Application will be unanimously rejected. Here is just a sample of (the many) deficiencies in the Application:

· Location – With respect to the proposed location of the turbine, the Trustees’ Special Permit Application incorrectly says that the turbine will be built on Turkey Hill and that an industrial wind turbine is consistent with the past industrial use of Turkey Hill. While it is true that Turkey Hill is a former NIKE silo site and current home to two cell towers that are not owned by the Trustees, a closer reading of the Application reveals that the 314 wooded acres upon which the Trustees propose to build this goliath are not located on Turkey Hill. Rather, the Trustees’ newly formed for-profit affiliate will build and operate the turbine on pristine land known as the Whitney Thayer Woods. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Whitney Thayer Woods were used for farming. The property has since become a forest and is now home to the American Holly Grove – hardly an industrial site. The Trustees also claim that the turbine will be built in a “remote” location, as if to suggest that no people live nearby. The reality is quite different. The Trustees acknowledge that (i) 200 or more elderly people reside at the Cohasset Golden Living Facility, only 984 feet from the site, (ii) the Trustees of Reservations on-site caretaker lives only 1,082 feet away in a house rented to the Trustees by the Town of Hingham, and (iii) “developed residential areas” including my home and many others are located less than 2,000 feet away. Indeed, a one-mile radius of the site embraces several Hingham neighborhoods (approximately 300 homes in total) as well as the East Street elementary school.

· Site Control – Under the Cohasset Wind By-Law, the Trustees and their for profit affiliate must show that they have the legal right to install and operate a 410 foot wind turbine on 314 acres of conservation land. At a hearing before the Planning Board on Dec. 8, we pointed out to the Planning Board that the Trustees of Reservations was created by an act of the Massachusetts Legislature in 1891, for the sole purpose of “acquiring, holding, arranging, maintaining and opening to the public…beautiful and historic tracts of land within the Commonwealth”. The Trustees of Reservations only have authority to acquire and preserve land. They have no authority to destroy hundreds of acres of conservation land they have acquired by gift or with funds donated to them by the public into a for profit wind energy plant. Converting public trust assets to a for-profit use requires an act of the Massachusetts Legislature.

A second potentially fatal defect in “site control” was revealed to the Planning Board by the Trustees’ own title examiner. In her written report to the Board, Title Attorney Nancy Mahoney Harris raised serious “unresolved concerns” as to whether conservation restrictions over the 314-acre site prohibit the development proposed by her client. In light of the concerns raised by their own expert, the Trustees cannot satisfy the site control requirements of the Wind By-Law. In her report, Attorney Harris recommended that additional survey work be done so that conservation restrictions would be fully understood. Sadly, no such steps have been taken by the Trustees and no such requirement has yet been imposed (or even discussed) by the Planning Board.

· Land Clearing/Open Space – The Cohasset Wind By-Law provides that wind turbines “shall avoid permanently protected open spaces when feasible”. On Feb. 7, when Chairman Al Moore asked Town Engineer John Modzelewski for his thoughts on the Application, Mr. Modzelewski observed that the proposed turbine was “fundamentally at odds” with the fact that the Whitney Thayer Woods currently serve as conservation land and “is basically, a public park”. Mr. Modzelewski’s candid remark vividly illustrates the absurdity of the underlying proposal (i.e. why would anyone build a power plant in the middle of a public park). More to the point, his comment highlights one of the fatal flaws in the Application.

· Height – The Cohasset Wind By-Law imposes a wind turbine height limit of 350 feet (the term “height” being defined in the By-Law as the distance from the base of the turbine to the highest point reached by the blades – in this case 410 feet), however, the Applicant can exceed this limit if it can show that the additional height is needed and that the additional benefits of a higher tower outweigh any adverse impact. During the truncated public comment process, no record whatsoever was made by the Trustees on this point, either as to the need for a turbine that exceeds 350 feet or how the benefit of a taller turbine will outweigh the burden to those like me who will suffer its ill effects every day for the next 20 or more years (i.e. the expected useful life of a wind turbine is 20 years).

· Flicker – Flicker is the strobe light effect created when the sun shines through the rotating blades of a wind turbine. As the sun moves across the sky, flicker moves across the landscape each day in a pattern that is frequently referred to as the “butterfly” because of its shape. According to an analysis of flicker conducted by the Trustees (which was verified by engineers hired by the Town of Cohasset), Hingham residents within this butterfly shaped zone will experience flicker anywhere from a low of 1-10 hours each year to a high of almost 100 hours depending on weather conditions. The flicker pattern will even reach homes along East Street near the intersection of Route 3A. One can only imagine the impact flicker will have on the mental and physical health of the 200 or more elderly residents of the Cohasset Golden Living facility who both experts agree will experience 60-80 hours of flicker, primarily during summer afternoons and evenings. Likewise, both engineering studies indicate that the caretaker who lives with his family in the house known as the “caretaker’s cottage” atop Turkey Hill adjacent to the proposed turbine site will be forced to endure between 80 and 90 hours of flicker each year. Fortunately, Cohasset’s flicker study reassures me that my family and I will only be forced to endure 11-20 hours of flicker each year. The only first-hand testimonials given to the Cohasset Planning Board during its public comment period came from two people who live near the so-called “Hull 2” turbine. Both of them insisted that no matter what the experts say, flicker and noise are ever present and highly annoying.

· Bearing in mind that this is the extent of the current record supporting the Application, consider this: the Cohasset Wind By-Law requires that a turbine be placed on the proposed site “in a manner that does not result in significant shadowing or flicker impacts.” The By-Law goes on to require that the Applicant “demonstrate that the flicker caused by the turbine will “not have a significant adverse impact on adjacent uses through siting.” Although the By-Law does not define what constitutes either “significant shadowing or flicker” or “significant adverse impact”, it is now almost universally accepted (even by groups that actively support wind energy development) that the flicker imposed on neighbors of a turbine should not exceed 30 hours annually (and many believe that flicker should be limited to 15 minutes per day and an annual limit of 10 hours). Here, the wind turbine proposed by the Trustees will expose more than 200 elderly residents of Golden Living to more than twice the well recognized limit each year and the Hingham caretaker and his family will endure nearly three times the limit. Unlike other sections of the Wind By-Law that allow the Planning Board to attach conditions to a Special Permit that will mitigate the adverse effects of a turbine, the shadow and flicker provisions of the Cohasset Wind By-Law do not allow mitigation conditions to cure an otherwise fatally flawed proposal.

At its initial deliberation session on Feb. 7, the five member Planning Board (and a sixth associate member) had a two hour discussions about some of the more substantial deficiencies in the Application, specifically safety and flicker. At around 9:30 p.m., the Board adjourned its deliberations to Feb. 23, when they can “wrap up” a package of conditions that can be attached to their approval (based on a vote that has not yet occurred). At one point during its deliberations concerning conditions that may be imposed to mitigate shadow flicker, Cohasset Town Counsel Rich Hucksam interrupted the discussion and admonished the Board that they must first determine that the Application satisfies the standards set forth in the Town’s Wind By-Law before attaching conditions that may mitigate certain adverse impacts. Attorney Hucksam was reminding the Board that it cannot cure fatal deficiencies in a Special Permit application through the use of after-the-fact mitigation measures. Notwithstanding counsel’s admonition, the Board plowed ahead and made various suggestions about mitigation measures that could reduce the exposure of neighboring residents to flicker. In a less than sincere expression of empathy for neighboring residents, Board Member Clark Brewer argued that darkening window shades were sufficient to protect the Hingham caretaker and the residents of the Golden Living elder care facility. Mr. Brewer’s suggestion may do the trick for those disabled residents of Golden Living who are unable to go outside to enjoy the sun or a breath of fresh air, but window shades won’t work very well for anyone else.

· Safety – One of the conditions which the Planning Board has considered to mitigate certain of its concerns is a fence around the base or the perimeter of the turbine site. Whether the fence they have in mind would surround the entire 314 acres or just the base of the turbine is unclear. As to safety, however, the record on this Application is woefully inadequate, due largely to the fact that the Planning Board closed the public record even though only the proponents had an opportunity to present evidence. Had they been sincerely interested in a complete record, the Planning Board would be aware that wind turbines can be extremely dangerous and are prone to unexplained “failures”. On Dec 27, 2009, a newly installed 329 foot wind turbine South of Oneida, New York collapsed inexplicably causing local officials to shut down the Fenner Wind Farm for approximately 8 months while the foundation of each turbine on the farm (19 in total) was reinforced. In March of 2009, a wind turbine on the Noble Wind Farm near Plattsburgh, New York inexplicably snapped in half, scattering debris as far as 345 feet from the base. Both of these accidents occurred on wind farms in remote locations away from people. The Trustees of Reservations propose to build their wind turbine – in the words of Cohasset Town Engineer John Modzelewski – in the middle of a public park where people walk, ride horses, ride bikes, ski and snow shoe 365 days each year. Imagine the consequences of a 410-foot turbine failure in a public park like the Whitney Thayer Woods. Regrettably, the record before the Planning Board is woefully incomplete on this critical point.

There are many other defects with the Special Permit Application submitted by the Trustees of Reservations. This is but a small sample. If Chairman Moore is true to his word, the Cohasset Planning Board will apply the letter of the Town’s Wind By-Law to the record before it, and reject the Application by a unanimous vote.

Source:  By Charles Dale, Wicked Local Cohasset, www.wickedlocal.com 18 February 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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