FALMOUTH – Falmouth officials have offered to turn off the town’s wind turbine for three hours a day, following noise complaints from neighbors.
Acting Town Manager Heather Harper proposed the partial overnight shutdown, calling the offer a “good faith effort toward a mutual resolution of the matter.”
After tracking complaints regarding the 1.65-megawatt turbine off Blacksmith Shop Road, known as Wind I, town officials found residents are most affected during periods of high winds in the late evening and early morning hours, Harper wrote in a Feb. 23 letter.
“We intend to modify the operation of the machine between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m., the times at which the background noise may be lower than the sound emanating from our wind energy equipment,” Harper wrote.
Details of the town’s offer are still unclear, however. Harper’s letter did not specify whether the turbine would be turned off for three hours every night or only during periods of high winds.
When approached by a Times reporter prior to Monday’s selectmen’s meeting, Harper said she did not know the answer and was unable to provide one before the start of the meeting. The meeting was still in progress as of the Times’ deadline.
But Gerald Potamis, the town’s wastewater superintendent who oversees operation of Wind I, said the change will go into effect as soon as the turbine manufacturer, Vestas, sends a technician to reprogram the turbine.
The shutdown is an “interim solution” until town officials and neighbors can work out a permanent solution, Potamis said.
But Christopher Senie, an attorney representing 18 residents who claim they are adversely affected by turbine noise, vibrations and shadow flicker, has said the town’s offer is not good enough.
Senie, who was not available for comment Monday, penned a Feb. 25 letter that stated this is the second time in four months Harper has made the offer to his clients.
Senie called the three-hour reprieve “wholly inadequate” in his letter, and wrote the suffering of neighbors “will not be lessened in any meaningful way.”
The only acceptable interim solution, he wrote, is to shut off Wind I whenever wind speeds reach 23 mph. It is a proposal Harper has repeatedly rejected, according to Senie’s letter.
“This is the only meaningful way to provide my clients some relief while the ultimate solution is developed and implemented,” Senie wrote.
Todd Drummey, who lives approximately 3,000 feet from Wind I, said the town’s offer “completely misses the point” because it assumes residents will be satisfied with three hours of sleep every night.
“It’s the same offer from back in October,” Drummey said. “It was ridiculous then and it’s ridiculous now.”
The ultimate goal, according to Senie and his clients, is to convince the town it was wrong not to require a special permit before the turbine became operational.
Building Commissioner Eladio Gore deemed the turbine a municipal use, and cited zoning bylaws that exempt “all municipal uses” from the special permit process. Senie, on the other hand, cited another local bylaw specifically pertaining to windmills, that requires a special permit in all instances.
Last month, three members of the zoning board of appeals said Gore made a mistake in interpreting the bylaws. But the appeal failed because two ZBA members recused themselves, meaning a 4-0 vote was necessary to uphold the appeal.
But the neighbors are still hopeful because selectmen – acting as the owners of the turbine – can request a special permit at any time.
To that end, several neighbors showed up at Monday’s meeting hoping to persuade selectmen to start the special permit process, which will give neighbors a chance to negotiate some potential compromises. But they were not on the agenda, and as of 9:30 p.m. it was unclear whether they would be allowed to speak.
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