CHARLTON – Bay Path Regional Vocational Technical High School officials plan to “stay the course” in erecting a wind turbine on campus, but the Overlook Masonic Health Center’s planned twin towers near the center of town are not “a done deal.”
Residents and local officials are protesting the two separate proposals, one to place two 330-foot-tall turbines 780 feet apart on Overlook property behind the library, the other to erect a similarly high turbine about a mile away on Bay Path school grounds.
Planning Board meetings to ensure local and state regulations are met have drawn residents en masse who say they support green energy but not near homes, schools, recreational fields and the town center.
Selectmen last week denounced both projects and asked officials to table their plans.
David C. Turner, Overlook president and CEO, responded in an interview Friday.
“We don’t have firm plans. We are only in the exploratory stage,” he said.
The Overlook center received a grant to perform a feasibility study. That and the Planning Board review, he said, are just aspects of a larger study being done before any decision.
“This is not by any stretch of the imagination a done deal. Their (residents’) concerns are being heard and are part of the exploratory process. I don’t want anyone in town to think these concerns have fallen on deaf ears,” he said.
As for the Bay Path turbine, Superintendent-Director David P. Papagni said Friday that at the last school committee meeting, he was told to “stay the course.”
He said he follows the direction of the Southern Worcester County Regional Vocational School Committee, which comprises representatives from Auburn, Charlton, Dudley, North Brookfield, Oxford, Paxton, Rutland, Southbridge, Spencer and Webster.
“Right now we’re dealing with the facts and the fact is everything is within government standards,” he said.
The Planning Board’s authority is limited to upholding regulations for the turbine site design, acoustic output and shadow flicker. The company hired to install both projects has reported that state Department of Environmental Protection regulations have been met for sound.
Residents’ objections to selectmen last week included turbine-generated infrasound – a low-frequency inaudible wave – that is not regulated by the state. Some claim infrasound is linked to physical and psychological ailments as well as learning disabilities in children.
In a video presentation, residents quoted a World Health Organization report that children, the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions are most vulnerable to the effects of infrasound.
While both plans affect nearby homes, the Overlook twin turbines will be about 2,000 feet from its own elderly residents, the town recreation fields, public library and Charlton Elementary School.
In a letter dated Wednesday, Town Administrator Robin L. Craver asked Overlook and Bay Path officials to postpone their plans until further health studies can be completed and “potential new legislation can be considered.”
The DEP and Department of Public Health are convening an expert panel to explore the effects of infrasound and other potential turbine health risks. Details regarding the study scope and duration are expected in a few weeks.
Regarding legislation, a state Senate bill introduced Jan. 20 seeks to, among other things, change turbine regulations to “ensure that such facilities are sited in appropriate locations based on clear, predictable and protective environmental, cultural and historic resource standards …”
Sen. Stephen M. Brewer, D-Barre, said Friday he has introduced an amendment to the bill that gives more control to local permitting authorities.
The Dudley-Charlton Regional School Committee will discuss the turbines proposed near the elementary school at its meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
The potential shadow flicker caused by sunlight on spinning blades is the topic of coming Planning Board reviews. The Overlook project will be presented April 20 and Bay Path is set for May 4.
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