WINSTED—The atmosphere at the first part of a two-day public hearing at Northwestern Regional School No. 7 to gather testimony about a proposed wind farm in Colebrook was unfailingly polite Tuesday evening, but the message was clear: do not allow the erection of six 100-meter wind turbines in a rural, historic neighborhood that most of its residents chose because they wanted to get away from urban blight.
Two Nearby Sites
The proposed project, which would establish two sites in Colebrook less than one mile from each other—on Flagg Hill Rd and Rock Hill—has created considerable discussion among the residents of the Northwest Corner, particularly those living in Colebrook. If testimony Tuesday is any guide, those opposed to the project outnumber those who favor it by about four to one.
The Connecticut Siting Council, responsible for determining where, and if, wind turbines can be erected in Connecticut, held the public hearing, which was scheduled to be continued on Wednesday. Siting Council Chairman Daniel Caruso laid the groundwork for the hearing, counseling those offering testimony to be brief and respectful so that all could be heard.
He also advised those attending that the council is not a proponent of wind-generating projects, but is responsible for their placement. “We decide if they meet the requirements to allow them to be built and under what conditions,” he said. “We are governed by state statutes and extensive regulations, and there are certain matters that are beyond our jurisdiction, such as putting moratoriums on projects. We have a decision to make by weighing whether the petitioners have met the burden of proof that there will not be a substantial detriment to the environment.”
He added that local land-use regulations do not limit the council’s ability to approve the projects.
Mr. Caruso advised those at the hearing Tuesday that no other hearing will be held, but said written statements sent to the council within 30 days will receive the same weight of consideration as verbal testimony. Ex parte communications are forbidden, however. “Off-the-record communication about the merits of the application are prohibited by law, he said. “We can’t talk to you.”
The proposal has been put forward by BNE Energy and, it is argued, would support Connecticut’s commitment to have 27 percent of all energy consumed in the state generated by clean, renewable energy sources by the year 2020. The two proposed sites in Colebrook are estimated to produce 4.8 mega-watts of electricity.
The majority of the testimony Tuesday centered around the unsightly quality of the towering structures and the possible environmental impact they would have, on birds and animals to be sure, but mostly on humans.
Many of those testifying said they had lived in the town for decades, choosing to live there because it is an uncommonly beautiful town that has escaped extensive development. Alan White said he is a life-long Colebrook resident and enjoyed the beautiful, quiet location. “I am very concerned about my mother, who would have to look at them. These towers will produce noise—proponents say it will be no louder than a refrigerator but it is more likely to be like non-stop jets overhead. We need to protect living creatures from this construction—it’s hard to imagine the damage it would cause.”
Like many, he said wind turbines need to be placed where they will cause less harm and added that he hoped the council would not be influenced by the rush to secure federal funding for the project which is scheduled to run out this year. He noted that Connecticut does not have regulations for wind turbines in place and said it needs a clear set of rules before applications are approved.
Jennifer Truss, also of Colebrook, questioned the health hazards associated with wind turbines. She said she suffers from migraines and that these are exacerbated by noise and flickering lights of the kind that could be produced by the turning blades of turbines.
“People living near turbines report vibrations in their chests,” she said. “I can feel the beating wings of a ruffed grouse in my chest, so imagine what this would be like with a tower in motion 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The health and well-being of people like me should be of the utmost concern. We will lose the right to enjoy our homes.”
Others had safety concerns as well. Carol Mack of Winsted lives about two miles from the proposed site. She said she and her husband came to the area from Queens, N.Y., because they enjoy the rural character. She said she has always been environmentally conscious, and feels wind power is essential, “but we do not feel this site is the least bit appropriate. It has nothing to do with being a farm—it is a power-generating plant and as much consideration should be given to its siting as to any other power plant.”
Jerry Rathburn, a former first selectmen in Colebrook, had another fear. He noted that towers have caught fire in other places. “We rely heavily on volunteer emergency services,” he said, asking if the council members could imagine the local volunteers confronting a fire on a 400-foot-tall tower. “This is very real. Fires are the second most frequent mechanical failure for towers,” he said, citing a fire in which 77-foot blades fell from a tower.
Mr. Rathburn was not the only public figure who spoke against the project. Ken Andresen, of the Colebrook Historical Society and Colebrook Land Conservancy, said Connecticut needs to honor its “American roots by honoring the beauty of our heritage.”
“There are no regulations governing the placement of wind towers,” he said. “There is nothing to prevent a 40-story tower being built next to a white-steepled church or a house built before the American Revolution.” He said now is the time “to prevent these [mental] pictures from becoming a nightmarish reality.”
John Garrels, chairman of the Colebrook Planning and Zoning Commission and co-author of its plan of development, said he appeared as a private citizen. He noted that Colebrook’s village center has been unchanged and free of commerce except for having the state’s oldest general store. “To reach the center, visitors have to pass over roads under rigid protection,” he said. The towers, he believes, would “unalterably and permanently compromise the nature of the village center.”
He noted, as did others who testified, that Colebrook has provided hydro-electric generation capacity for the state since dams were built decades ago. “We have been green for three generations and we have done our share,” he concluded.
William Riiska, chairman of the Norfolk Planning and Zoning Commission and chairman of the government relations committee of the Northwest Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, also testified as a private citizen. “Both of these organizations involve planning and I am stunned by the lack of planning for a proposal like this,” he said “The Chamber of Commerce’s mantra for as long as I have been on it is doing proper planning—I see no considered planning in projects like these. The economics of wind turbines only survive with government subsidies.”
Mark Palmer of Flagg Hill Rd. said a moratorium is essential to determine potential environmental effects. “I don’t understand how elected officials and yourselves [the council] can be in a rush without doing all the research that needs to be done,” he said, referring to the possible effects on endangered species.
A few residents took the podium in favor of wind generation, however.
Janet Fredsall said her family has owned property in Colebrook for 50 years and that as long as wind generation is deemed safe, she would support it. “Renewable fossil-free energy is good for Connecticut and the country as a whole,” she said, adding that it would increase the tax base of the town.
John Dorozio, who has lived in Colebrook for more than a decade, said he supports generation because of the monetary gain it would bring the town. “At a time when state and local budgets are strained, and officials are looking for extra money, it is increasingly difficult to meet the needs of the town with a fiscally responsible budget,” he said. “Consumer and operating costs have skyrocketed and will continue to do so. With our country dependent on foreign oil, we should be looking for clean, renewable energy.”
And Harry Gagnon speculated that people would soon ignore the noise of the towers just as they tune out the sound of tractor trailer trucks on Route 8. “In the long run, it’s our future.,” he said. “Fossil fuel—we have to move on. I am sorry it’s being built in residential areas, but I think we should get a million of these towers all over the world.”
The Siting Council is expected to render a decision on the project in May. Eight of the nine council members toured the sites on Tuesday afternoon.
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