A small contingent of abutters to the town’s wind turbine at the Wastewater Treatment Facility showed up at the selectmen’s meeting last night and made some noise, perhaps not as loud as the machine that they say has impacted their lives since April, but loud enough to persuade the board to take steps to mitigate the machine’s effect on the neighborhood.
Despite not being on the agenda, selectmen allowed those neighbors to voice their complaints at the end of a marathon meeting that concluded short of 11:30 PM.
And when they finished hearing emotional pleas asking town officials to take action, the selectmen voted unanimously to shut down the turbine when wind speeds reach 10 meters per second, roughly the equivalent of 23 miles per hour.
The vote represented a small victory for those who have sought relief from the town in an effort to curb the operation of the wind turbine, which they have said has affected everything from their health to their property values.
At times, the discussion last night became heated as Chairman of the Falmouth Board of Selectmen Brent V.W. Putnam nearly lost control of the audience, several times having to use his gavel to quiet those in the room.
“Do something,” Colin P. Murphy of Blacksmith Shop Road blurted out from the back of the room as his neighbor Neil P. Andersen stood in front of the board at the selectmen’s table pleading for help.
“Folks, I can hear you,” Mr. Putnam said as he pounded his gavel. “Shouting out while we’re talking and interrupting the board while we’re trying to take some steps is not going to help your case.”
Appealing the appeals board decision
Mr. Putnam had kicked off the discussion by referencing a letter from Christopher G. Senie, the Westborough attorney who is representing 18 residents living near the wind turbine. Mr. Senie had notified the board that his clients would be attending last night’s meeting to see if selectmen could assist them in any way.
That request comes on the heels of a Zoning Board of Appeals decision two weeks ago that upheld Building Commissioner Eladio R. Gore’s decision that Wind 1, the turbine currently in operation, did not require a special permit to be constructed.
Two of Mr. Senie’s clients—Mr. Andersen and his wife, Elizabeth L. Andersen of Blacksmith Shop Road—had filed that appeal in an effort to hold a Zoning Board of Appeals hearing that may place some conditions on the operation of the turbine.
Because Mr. Senie has gone on record that he may contest the appeals board’s recent decision, Acting Town Manager Heather B. Harper said Falmouth Town Counsel Frank K. Duffy Jr. has advised that this process should be played out first before selectmen discuss the issue.
Once the appeals board files its decision, she said, the Andersens would have 21 days to appeal that in Barnstable Superior Court.
Mr. Putnam wondered what interim steps could be taken to alleviate the situation.
Ms. Harper suggested shutting down the turbine from midnight to 3 AM.
“So we can sleep three hours a day,” Mr. Murphy yelled out sarcastically.
A real headache
As Mr. Putnam tried to quiet the room, Mr. Andersen got out of his seat, walked to the selectmen’s table and handed them a piece of paper that chronicled the times of day the turbine has disrupted their lives.
“It is all day today,” Mr. Andersen said. “I haven’t slept in days.”
“This is not an easy situation,” Mr. Putnam said, pointing out the town has a considerable amount of money, that includes federal stimulus dollars, invested in the turbine.
At the same time, he understood the concerns of residents, referring to a disturbing phone call he received last week from an emotional Ms. Andersen that moved him, he said.
“I have a splitting headache,” Mr. Andersen said, remaining in front of the board. “Do something. My god, people.”
While this is a difficult issue, Ms. Harper suggested it was perhaps not best to have this discussion at 11 PM when both residents and the board were tired.
She also noted that she has attempted to work with Mr. Senie to take appropriate steps to address his clients’ concerns, balancing those with the interests of the town. She said she would continue to make efforts to find a resolution that would be amenable to both sides.
But Selectman David Braga wanted the town to help as soon as possible. He said last October he visited the turbine six times one day from midnight to 6 AM to determine if the complaints about the machine were justified.
He said they were, stressing that “we have to do something for these people, the sooner the better.”
At that point several residents were allowed to speak, despite the item not being listed on the agenda.
Although Ms. Harper warned this could conflict with open meeting laws, Mr. Putnam disagreed, noting they had only received the letter from Ms. Senie that day and there was no reasonable expectation that this matter would be on the agenda before that point.
He asked to “give these individuals an opportunity just to be heard.”
Residents get a sympathetic ear
Todd A. Drummey of Blacksmith Shop Road said neighbors are hoping to resolve the issue outside the court system by working with the town. He said selectmen have the authority to send this to the appeals board to hold a hearing for a special permit.
He said this would give an opportunity for both neighbors and wind turbine experts to be heard before that board, which could then make a decision on possible controls for the machine.
But former appeals board member C. Veronica Zylinski of Thomas B. Landers Road said she did not believe selectmen could remand the case to the appeals board.
“It has to go through the appeals process,” she said. “No other entity can come to the ZBA to say we want you to do this or that.”
Mr. Drummey’s wife, Terri Pentifallo-Drummey, warned that “if someone kills themselves” because of the turbine, it will be a far greater cost the town will have to bear than curbing or halting the operation of the machine.
“You are killing us,” Mr. Murphy said, his voice growing louder as he spoke. “Step up to the plate and help us out. Sometimes the town makes bad decisions. I’ve seen plenty of them in my life. Don’t always worry about the bottom line…”
John J. Ford of Blacksmith Shop Road said his health has been declining since the turbine has been erected, noting his “blood pressure is off the charts… I’ve done everything I can to live with this at night. I don’t know what else I can do.”
“If there’s anything you can do to help us out, we would really appreciate it,” Lawrence V. Worthington Jr. of Blacksmith Shop Road said. “This has been going on since April.”
After hearing comments from nine residents, selectmen voted unanimously to amend the operation of the turbine, at wind speeds over 10 meters per second, indefinitely, leading to a smattering of applause and “thank yous” from those in the audience.
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