My husband and I met in 1976 and bonded over a shared love of nature. We have long considered ourselves conservationists, not only because our wonderful Depression-era parents taught us to use things up and wear them out, but because we learned our lesson from the oil embargo of the ’70s.
This awareness of the Earth’s declining natural resources led my husband, some 30 years ago, to start one of the first alternative energy construction companies on the Cape. And when we built our home on Blacksmith Shop Road 20 years ago, we designed it to be an energy-efficient system in itself. We also recycle, compost, drive small cars, use fluorescent bulbs, turn off lights when not in use, unplug appliances using phantom electricity, keep our heat down to 60 degrees in the winter and repurpose many things that would otherwise be thrown away.
Yet we, and our neighbors, have been criticized and made to feel guilty for complaining about ill health effects directly related to the size and proximity of utility-size wind turbines to our homes.
My husband and I were aware that the town Falmouth had been exploring the use of turbines for years, and we thought this was a good idea. However, when two turbines, already turned down by two other towns, became available, Falmouth officials chose to ignore the Falmouth windmill bylaw already on the books and erected two 400-foot mechanical machines, one 1,320 feet directly north of our home.
We, and our neighbors, were intentionally shut out of a special permitting process so that we would not hold up financing or construction in any way. Consequently, we have been living a nightmare ever since the turbine went online last year.
The 7½-ton, 135-foot-long blades of the turbine slice through the air every second, creating a sound pressure that feels like the pounding of a bass instrument coming through the walls day and night. Just try to imagine that sound always there in your yard and in every room in your house, with no opportunity to turn it off. You go insane!
At first we naively thought our Falmouth administrators would be concerned for us when informed of our health problems. Since April 2010, we and our neighbors have continually called, written, emailed or spoken in person to our town officials and begged them for some relief. The response we got for one year: no response. We contacted our building commissioner, zoning board of appeals, selectmen, and especially our board of health: no response.
Unfortunately for us, town administrators, in their haste to be “green,” did not research the negative impacts of utility-scale turbines near residential areas, and were taken by surprise by all of our complaints. Because the town of Falmouth owns the turbine, the administrators, again, chose to shut us out. We finally were forced to go to court just to get them to acknowledge us.
We wish we could list all the details of the cruel indifference we have been subjected to for a year, but the log we keep is pages too long. It was not until my husband and I were so exhausted from the ill treatment of turbine and town that we had to be civilly disobedient at a town meeting to plead for some relief. The Falmouth selectmen finally helped by way of a temporary shutoff when wind speeds reach 23 mph.
What we have so painfully learned this year is that there has been no place to go for help. Not our town hall, nor state representatives; not the police, not the DEP, nor the Department of Public Health. What is happening wasn’t supposed to happen. So we wait and suffer while it is “figured out.”
My husband and I still wholeheartedly embrace the movement toward alternative energy, but, once again, both the Massachusetts government and our town government put the cart before the horse and did not do all they could have done to protect the people. And from the looks of things going on in other towns, it is going to be up to the townspeople to fight for responsible turbine siting, to protect the health of their fellow man.
Elizabeth Andersen lives in Falmouth.
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