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Falmouth limits use of turbine

FALMOUTH – Noting the hardship of residents living on or near Blacksmith Shop Road, Falmouth selectmen Monday night voted unanimously to limit the use of the controversial Wind 1 turbine at the town’s wastewater treatment facility.

But the board also asked for patience and open communication as it seeks to find a lasting solution to the complex issue.

Around 11 p.m. Monday night selectmen voted to shut down the nearly 400-foot, 1.65-megawatt turbine when wind speeds exceed 10 meters per second. The board also made it clear that this order is to remain in effect until selectmen say otherwise.

“We’re going to keep it down until we have a solution,” said Selectmen Chairman Brent Putnam, referring specifically to the turbine’s use at high wind speeds.

There was some discussion as to whether the selectmen should act on the turbine Monday night or even listen to the testimony of residents who waited four hours to address the board. This is because, technically, the zoning board of appeal’s Feb. 17 decision regarding a special permit process is still open and has not passed a mandatory 20-day appeal period. Town Counsel Frank Duffy had advised the board and acting Town Manager Heather Harper to refrain from action on the issue until that decision becomes official.

However, selectmen did hear from several residents who told them the turbine’s constant noise is, quite simply, ruining their lives.

“My health is declining,” said John Ford, who added that he suffers from increased blood pressure, headaches and earaches as a result of the turbine. He told the board he spent the better part of a day researching soundproof windows for his home. “I’m doing anything I can to live with this nightmare,” he said.

Jill Worthington spoke of the constant “tick tick tick” which makes it hard for her to open her windows, a problem that will become more acute as spring approaches. She also said that, during those rare times when there is no noise, there is still a feeling of unease.

“When you can’t hear it, you’re thinking about your neighbors on the other side of the wind,” she said.

Residents waited politely during the lengthy meeting but there was some volatility and anger at the beginning of the discussion. Shouts could be heard from the audience and one or two residents spoke out of turn. The display prompted a quick gavel from the board’s chairman.

“Obviously, we hear your concerns,” said Putnam, “but shouting while we’re trying to address this case will not help.”

For the most part, however, residents made their case in a polite but passionate tone. Many speakers’ voices strained with emotion and at least one speaker expressed gratitude that residents could finally voice their frustration to officials in their hometown.

Selectman David Braga said he had visited the area to see what residents were talking about. He told his colleagues of the constant whooshing noise, which he compared to the sound of shoes tumbling around in a dryer.

“Something needs to be done for these people,” he said.

Harper urged residents to work with the town as it decides what to do long-term with the turbine. She said a consultant is working to address issues raised by the state Department of Environmental Protection on the town’s wind turbine study. She also said there’s an idea to limit the turbine during some nighttime hours. Finally, she pointed to a website which tracks the letters and complaints of area residents.

“It is read, it is reviewed and it is responded to as much as we’re able,” Harper told the audience.

The Feb. 17 decision by the ZBA upheld the building commissioner’s decision that a special permit was not needed to build the turbine at the wastewater facility.