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Turbine critics come out swinging in Dennis

SOUTH DENNIS – It may only be one of the first steps in the debate over a proposal to place two wind turbines on Dennis Water District property, but it was a doozy.

About 100 residents from Dennis, Harwich, Brewster and Falmouth filled the Dennis Senior Center on Monday night to voice their opinions on the tentative plan, with the majority of those who spoke coming down squarely against the idea.

“Welcome to the fray,” said Joseph Swaluk of East Brewster. “You’re just beginning your fight here.”

The water district commissioners should give up the plan before things get ugly, Swaluk said.

“I suggest you show more common sense than the proponents of the Brewster project and just terminate it,” he said about a two-turbine proposal in Brewster that has divided the town and its planning board.

The Dennis project’s first hurdle comes April 26 when the water district holds its annual meeting which includes three articles seeking legislation that is necessary for the project to proceed.

But if water ratepayers approve the articles it is just a beginning, water district officials said. State lawmakers must sign off on the special legislation, which would allow the construction of renewable-energy projects on water district land and an easement for the town of Dennis on the district’s land.

Only after the special legislation is approved will there be many specifics available about the project, officials said, adding that the proposed location of the turbines could even change.

Voters will also have another shot to vote on the construction of the turbines in the future.

Monday’s hearing was held to gather comments from Dennis residents and those in neighboring towns who will not be able to speak or vote at the district’s meeting, water district Superintendent David Larkowski said.

The water district is separate from the town and funds its operations through money paid by the district’s ratepayers, Larkowski said.

Wind turbines on a 330-acre piece of property owned by the district off Airline Road are a possible way to keep water rates low, he said.

Nearby residents, however, questioned whether the project could have detrimental effects on the local environment, their health and the value of their property.

“These are in my backyard,” said Jim Hudson of Airline Road in South Dennis, adding that he was concerned about a decline in property values that could occur if turbines are built near his home.

John Ford of Blacksmith Shop Road in Falmouth warned Dennis residents against making “the same mistake as Falmouth.”

“When the blades are spinning it is sheer hell in my home,” he said. Residents in Falmouth who live near three turbines at the town’s wastewater treatment facility and a nearby business have become an example of what other towns might face if they move forward with such projects, Ford and others said.

The construction of land-based turbines has faced a significant headwind because of the so-called “Falmouth experience.”

Similar projects in Wellfleet, Harwich and Brewster have been rejected although Brewster and Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative officials are seeking a way to move forward with a project there after the town’s planning board could not reach the necessary super majority to approve the two wind turbines.

Although several speakers at Monday’s hearing said they hope the Dennis turbines will be built, most in the audience expressed deep-seated concerns about the project.

“I oppose it. I’m afraid of it,” said Jill Mullen of Belmont Avenue in Harwich. “I don’t want my husband and my children and myself to end up like the man from Falmouth.”