WINSTED – Using words like “menacing,” “monstrosity” and “moratorium,” Colebrook community members expressed widespread opposition to a proposed wind-turbine project in town during a hearing Tuesday, March 22, at Northwestern Regional High School.
The hearing was held by the Connecticut Siting Council, which is currently in the process of deciding whether two pieces of land in Colebrook are suitable for the construction of six large wind turbines by West Hartford-based BNE Energy. The company owns one plot of land in Colebrook and would lease a second property, putting three of its 480-foot-tall, white-bladed modern windmills at each location. A third project is planned by the company in Prospect.
During the past several weeks, residents of Colebrook, Norfolk and Winsted have expressed opposition to the BNE plan, which they say would create environmental hazards, increase noise pollution and disrupt natural sight lines for miles, lowering property values in the process. Only about one in every 10 residents who spoke Tuesday offered favorable opinions, and those came with the caveat that the project must be declared safe and economically beneficial to the town if it is to move forward.
Connecticut Siting Council Chairman Daniel Caruso opened the meeting Tuesday, explaining that the council is not a proponent of the wind turbines, but is charged with hearing residents’ concerns and determining the legality of the turbine project.
The two Colebrook projects are under consideration as Petition No. 983, an 80-acre property on Flagg Hill Road, and Petition No. 984, a 125-acre property on Norfolk Road (Route 44). The petitions ask the siting council to issue a declaratory ruling that BNE Energy will not need a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need in order to build its turbines on the Colebrook properties.
Critics raised numerous environmental and safety concerns Tuesday night, most notably with regard to noise pollution and the sheer size of the proposed windmills, which may exceed 480 feet (see graphic illustration, far right).
At the meeting, a graphic rendering showed what a 480-foot-tall turbine would look like next to the cell tower on Route 44 between Winsted and Colebrook. Indiscreetly camouflaged as a pine tree, the cell tower already protrudes unnaturally from the ridge line, but it would be dwarfed by the turbine.
Other photographs presented by opponents show the structures on fire, shooting electrical currents into the ground and missing pieces of their giant wings.
Caruso noted that there are three different groups opposing BNE’s Colebrook plans, each of which is represented by counsel. The most vocal has been Fairwind Connecticut, which has established its own website and network of opposition to the project.
Fairwind supports a moratorium on all decisions regarding wind turbines in residential areas pending further study of the environmental and economic implications. Members of the opposing parties were prohibited from speaking during Tuesday night’s hearing, which was reserved for concerned residents.
Those rising in opposition to the project included former selectmen and several prominent residents of Colebrook who presented a range of concerns. Ken Andresen of the Colebrook Land Conservancy noted that 40-story towers are being considered in the same area where homes still stand from before the American Revolution. The towers, with their “spinning propellers and nightmarish velocity” would “scar the face of Connecticut forever,” he said.
Former Colebrook First Selectman Jerry Rathbun backed up the imagery with stories of fires in the gearboxes of the wind turbines and burning propeller blades flying through the air and landing on cars. He noted that the cost to outfit local volunteer firefighters with the equipment necessary to combat such disasters would be prohibitive.
Suggesting that at least some exaggeration is happening in the debate, supporters of the wind turbines have said the structures are quiet and would sound something like a refrigerator from 1,000 feet away. Critics of the project said the turbines sound more like jet engines and suggested that associated health risks range from migraines and depression to death from falling blades.
Resident Diane Gracewski wondered aloud why more appropriate areas aren’t being considered by the state.
“Why not the Mad River Dam or the Colebrook River Dam? The state owns this land. Maybe they can make some money and help us all out,” she said. “Residential areas should be left alone. That’s why we moved here.”
William O. Riiska, an attorney and chairman of the Norfolk Planning and Zoning Commission, said he was surprised that more homework hadn’t been done by proponents of the wind towers.
“I am stunned by the lack of planning for a proposal like this,” he said. “I don’t see any considered decisions being made in this process.”
Riiska said the impact on tourism in Northwest Connecticut should also be a consideration when deciding whether or not to construct the wind towers.
The evening was not without its light-hearted moments, including an appearance by Colebrook resident Bob Schumacher.
“I’m here because my wife made me come,” he said, eliciting a roomful of laughter.
Schumacher said that anyone who owns a home in Colebrook and expects the town to retain its peaceful, rural character would be disenfranchised by the construction of the wind turbines.
“Even if one person doesn’t want them, it wouldn’t be fair. It would still be the wrong thing to do,” he said.
“Obviously we’re not happy with the wind towers,” Schumacher said. “We think everyone here agrees that we want to go green. We just don’t want to go deaf in the process.”
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