When the Cohasset Planning Board members cast their votes unanimously in favor of special permit for a wind turbine on Turkey Hill several members said it was almost assured their decision would be appealed.
Just 18 days after the board’s decision was filed came a Boston Land Court suit: the Golden Living nursing home, located less than 1000 feet from the proposed turbine site, and the owners of four Hingham residences have joined forces to seek an annulment of the decision.
The controversial project, which was the subject of several heated public hearings, was brought forward by the Trustees of Reservations and is the first wind turbine project to garner a special permit in Cohasset.
The Planning Board approved a single wind turbine at the height of 410-feet (including the height of the blades) to be built in the northwest corner of Cohasset close to the Hingham line on land owned by the Trustees of Reservations. The 1.8-megawatt turbine is projected to produce enough energy to power all the Trustees of Reservations’ buildings throughout Massachusetts with some to spare. The Trustees established a private corporation, Conservation Wind LP, to lease the land in order to construct the turbine.
The special permit came with a host of conditions the Planning Board felt were needed to ensure a safe project that complies with the town’s bylaws throughout the life of the structure.
Yet, the Land Court suit argues the project does not comply with the town’s zoning bylaws in a variety of respects.
At the top of the list is the impact of “shadow flicker,” a strobing effect produced when the sun passes behind the blades of the turbine.
“The flicker effect will have a substantial adverse impact on those residents at Golden Living’s facility as well as those who reside nearby, including causing these persons to experience up to 100 hours per year of flicker,” the lawsuit states. Golden Living nursing facility is home to about 200 elderly residents.
The portion of the zoning bylaw dedicated to wind turbine does not give a specific threshold for shadow flicker, only that there should not be “significant shadowing or flicker impacts.”
During the hearings the “industry standard” of no more than 30 hours per year of shadow flicker was discussed frequently.
One of the 37 conditions given in the approval for the project is monitoring of the actual shadow/flicker at five locations near the turbine. According to the decision, excessive flicker is defined as more than 30 minutes per day and/or more than 30 hours per year. If either of these maximum levels of flicker is exceeded the planning board requires the applicant to undertake measures (i.e. shut down the turbine during certain hours) to mitigate the shadow/flicker.
The lawsuit contends the planning board cannot use conditions to ensure the project complies with the bylaw.
“If a turbine imposes significant shadowing or flicker impacts, the proposed turbine cannot satisfy the bylaw and no measure of mitigation can correct this deficiency,” the suit states.
Susan Haralson, spokesperson for Golden Living, said the proposed wind turbine construction would have a direct, negative impact on the patients, residents and employees at Golden Living Center in Cohasset.
“We are particularly concerned about the close proximity of the proposed turbine to our Living Center, the noise created by the turbine’s operation, the shadowing that the turbine will cast, the flicker of the turbine…and other safety issues associated with turbines,” Harolson said in an e-mail. “(All of these issues are) of special concern given the age and healthcare needs of our patients and residents.”
For Hingham resident Charles Dale, who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, both the process and the ultimate decision to allow the wind turbine were “fatally flawed.”
“The planning board was much more interested in giving the citizens of Cohasset what they thought they wanted than hearing the concerns of the residents who would be affected and impacted by the turbine, in particular those 200 elderly residents at the nursing home,” Dale said in a phone interview. His home on Turkey Hill Lane is approximately one half-mile from the potential turbine site.
In addition to shadow flicker, the lawsuit names loss of property value, noise from the turbine and disruption caused by the construction of the turbine. The materials to construct the turbine must be brought to the site up Turkey Hill Lane, a narrow residential street.
The Trustees of Reservations are hopeful the Land Court lawsuit is only a step in the process.
“We still feel the project is appropriate and that we can address the concerns of Golden Living and their residents. We are still committed to making this project work,” Steve Sloan, Trustees of Reservations Greater Boston Regional Director, said in a phone interview. “Working toward sustainable energy alternatives is directly connected to our role as good stewards of conservation land.”
The Trustees have been working toward this project for several years, and Sloan said overcoming this appeal of their special permit is part of the process.
“Our next step is to win the appeal and move forward with the project,” Sloan said.
The Planning Board and each of its members are named as defendants in suit, in addition to the Trustees.
Planning Board vice chair Stuart Ivimey said he was “disappointed” the appeal was filed.
“The board dedicated significant time to hearing, understanding and studying the abutters’ complaints and concerns and I believe those are appropriately addressed by the conditions of approval set forth in the decision,” Ivimey said in a phone interview.