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Falmouth turbine talks turn turbulent

FALMOUTH – Personal hardship and data diverging from reality were common threads among Falmouth residents at a meeting Monday night addressing their concerns with the town’s municipal wind turbines.

Selectmen heard from abutting residents and gave a town consultant two weeks to present prices and feasibility for mitigation plans associated with Wind 1, the town’s 1.65-megawatt turbine, which some residents have complained downgraded their quality of life.

“At times, it gets jet engine loud” said Neil Andersen, an abutter who then blew into the microphone to simulate the booming noise he said he hears on a regular basis. “To put it simple, they drive one crazy.”

During a scheduled 10-minute presentation, Jill Worthington and Katherine Elder told the audience that 41 of the 56 abutting households they surveyed reported the turbines negatively affected at least one person in their household.

“I came to realize when we were having a good day (with noise and air pressure), someone on the other side of us was having a bad day,” said Worthington. She choked up when she spoke of one house she visited that seemed unaffected by the turbine. “My family and friends have lost that peace.”

Supporters of the project, while fewer in number, also made themselves known. Among them were Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray, who took to the podium at Falmouth High School’s auditorium before moderator Nancy Farrell, of Regina Villa Associates, began her duties.

“Your health and well-being is of the utmost concern to me and nobody should” experience discomfort, Murray said.

Kirsten Morritz, a Falmouth resident who does not live close enough to the turbines to hear them, stated her support for mitigation efforts rather than moving the turbine.

“The use of wind power can provide regional health benefits by displacing more harmful sources of power,” Morritz said.

A presentation by Chris Menge of Harris Miller Miller & Hanson Inc., a Burlington noise and vibration consultant for the town, negated several assertions made by a Falmouth resident at a June 6 meeting discussing the same issue.

As Menge cited peer-reviewed scientific data that he said proved there is no evidence that the low-frequency noise from the turbines causes harm, a person in the audience shouted “Wrong!” earning the moderator’s chastisement.

Some residents argued the data diverged from reality and if people simply came to their properties, they could experience the problem for themselves.

Colin Murphy, who said the turbine noise makes it difficult for him to read his children bedtime stories at night, said that a selectman told him she would personally come to his house to see the problem.

“As of today, she has not even returned my calls,” Murphy said.

After presentations, the board heard different directions the town could pursue in order to mitigate these complaints. Possibilities included moving the turbines, buying homes from unhappy abutters who say the turbines have diminished property values, and equipping abutters’ properties with soundproof walls and other alterations to combat negative effects.

Further limitations to the turbine’s operations, such as one that currently requires them to turn off when wind reach 23 mph, were also mentioned as an option.

Board chairwoman Mary Pat Flynn expressed a desire to begin a mitigation strategy as quickly as possible, but told her colleagues they needed more specific information before committing to one option.

“We have to have some facts,” she said. “These facts have to be real and they have to be evidence based.”

The board unanimously agreed to have Weston and Sampson, another consultant for the town, to present a “scope of service” that would outline pricing and feasibility of each mitigation option at their meeting on July 25.