FALMOUTH – Opponents of a controversial wind turbine off Blacksmith Shop Road needed four votes to overturn the Falmouth building commissioner’s original decision and require a special permit process.
They got three.
At its Feb. 17 hearing the Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals voted 3-1 to overturn Building Commissioner Eladio Gore’s decision to exempt the Wind 1 turbine at the Falmouth Wastewater Treatment Facility from the special permitting process. Since a unanimous vote is needed for such an action, Gore’s decision stands.
Dennis Murphy, acting ZBA chairman, voted to overturn the decision as did members Patricia Johnson and Kenneth Foreman. Ronald Erikson proved the lone but decisive vote to keep Gore’s decision in place.
Nearly 400 feet in height, the turbine has been operational for more than year but has also been the source of complaints from residents. Opponents cite the noise of the turbine and say it can cause lack of sleep and headaches. They also point to a recent letter from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, which called the town’s noise study on the turbine incomplete.
“It’s a travesty,” said Dave Moriarty, a lifelong Falmouth resident who attended the meeting. Like many in the audience, Moriarty expressed sadness but not surprise at the decision, which had been discussed at length during recent public hearings.
“Tonight, this is exactly what we expected to happen,” said Todd Drummey, a neighbor to the turbine who added he has not been able to sleep for several nights because of the sound the turbine makes.
Neil Andersen, another opponent, echoed Drummey’s comments. “It’s tough to get a unanimous vote,” said Andersen. “It looks like I’m not going to get to sleep again tonight.”
Whether they voted for or against overturning Gore’s decision, board members briefly made their cases at the Feb. 17 hearing.
Calling the relevant bylaws “conflicting, opaque, confusing and outdated,” Johnson nonetheless said she appreciated the additional time the board took to research the issue. From that research, she said it was clear to her that, while an older bylaw allowed Gore to bypass the special permit process because he deemed the turbine a municipal use, a later bylaw enacted in the early 1980s specifically outlined a special permit process for turbines.
“This bylaw represents a balanced effort to allow windmills while protecting neighbors,” said Johnson.
After the meeting, Drummey praised Johnson’s research into the matter and said he supported her conclusion. “When there’s a conflict in the bylaws, you always use the more specific one,” he said.
Foreman questioned whether the turbine is truly a municipal use since the power generated is not sold to the public but used to defray costs at the treatment facility. Giving such a broad definition to the term “municipal,” he warned, is a slippery slope. “Why couldn’t they put up an adult book store? It’s just reducing their cost,” he asked.
Foreman added: “I’m not saying the town shouldn’t have built a wind turbine. I’m saying they should have had a special permit.”
Murphy picked up on Foreman’s comment that the turbine represents “a very different kind of municipal use” and said he “followed the same logic.”
Erikson defended his vote by saying the town authorizes the building commissioner to make a decision on projects and that’s exactly what he did.
“The building inspector is charged with that responsibility,” said Erikson. “He did what he saw fit.”
Erikson began the public hearing by recounting a recent incident at a post office where at least one resident asked about his vote and urged him to change it.
“I thought that was pushing the envelope a bit,” said Erikson. He told fellow board members and the audience that he did not discuss the matter with that resident and that the conversation would have no effect on his vote that night.
After the meeting, Murphy declined comment, explaining that the board’s decision first needed to be signed, filed with the town and pass the mandatory 20-day appeal period.
“Until that happens, it’s still in front of us, technically,” Murphy said.
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