Selectmen made no definitive decision regarding the future of the town’s two wind turbines last night, but will have the town’s consultant Weston & Sampson investigate a range of options that could mean taking down both machines and selling them to another community on one end of the spectrum to doing nothing on the other.
In-between those two possibilities are other options that include retrofitting homes owned by those abutters impacted by Wind 1 since it was made operational in March of last year with sound barriers or blackout shades.
Or the town could continue to shut down the turbine during specific times of day or wind speeds, something the board elected to do in February when it voted to halt the operation of the machine when wind speeds reach 10 meters per second, which is roughly the equivalent of 23 miles per hour.
The only option that the board elected to hold off pursuing was purchasing the homes of those aggrieved, something that Selectman Kevin E. Murphy and Chairman Mary(Pat) Flynn argued should be considered as a last-ditch effort, should all other mitigation strategies fail.
Before providing selectmen with a cost-benefit analysis for this menu of choices, Weston & Sampson will provide the board with a scope of service for the work it will conduct and the information it will provide.
That information will be used by the board to determine how to best solve the dilemma the town is wrestling with concerning the wind turbines and neighboring residents who have claimed repeatedly the machines have impacted their health and well-being.
“I think it’s important we do this,” Ms. Flynn said. “I think we have to know what our options are and what the costs are… I think we can’t delay. We certainly can’t hold meetings like this every week. We have to have some facts and they have to be real and evidence-based.”
Last night’s forum was the second the board has held in the past month on wind turbines. The first was held in June at the Morse Pond School, while last night’s moved to the auditorium of Falmouth High School, with roughly 75 people in attendance.
The discussion kicked off with a brief comment by Senate President Therese M. Murray (D – Plymouth) who stressed the state is looking into addressing the proper siting and operation of wind turbines in relation to residential areas. “Your health and well-being are of utmost importance to us,” she said.
At the same time, she said, Massachusetts needs to continue exploring alternative energy sources as a way to lower the state’s high electricity costs, which she said are among the five highest in the nation.
“My hope is that tonight brings us one step closer to a solution,” she said, concluding her remarks.
What that solution should be is unclear, although area residents pushed for dismantling the machines, so they could return to their former way of life. Roughly half of the three-hour session allowed for the public to make comments, with the majority railing against the town’s decision to erect the turbines.
“Most of us know Wind 1 was a big mistake,” said Neil P. Andersen of Blacksmith Shop Road. He termed his home “ground zero” and said the sound of the turbine, at times, is like “a jet engine coming. Whoo. Whoo. Whoo. Over and over again.” He was the first of many to speak of sleepless nights he and his wife, Elizabeth, have encountered as the result of being subject to the machines.
Diane C. Funfar of Ridgeview Drive expressed fear about how the turbine is affecting her husband, Barry A. Funfar, a Vietnam War veteran. With a fight or flight mentality, she said, her husband has elected to “fight,” seeing “no sense in giving up.”
“My grandkids want gardening with grandpa [Mr. Funfar] to return,” she said.
On a similar note Colin P. Murphy of Blacksmith Shop Road said reading a bedtime story to his children at night is nearly impossible due to the noise created by the turbines. “You have wronged our neighborhood,” he said. “You have to fix it. It is time for you to step up to the plate and do your job.”
And while the focus of the session was the town-owned wind turbines, there were those like Loretta O’Brien of Blacksmith Shop Road, who mentioned the privately owned Notus Clean Energy wind turbine in Technology Park. “I’m losing sleep because of it,” she said, calling on selectmen to extend whatever decision they ultimately make on the town-owned wind turbines to that one as well.
Sheldon Lowenthal of Ambleside Drive said selectmen had to make a moral and fiduciary decision on behalf of the town, warning that “someone could die one of these days” as the direct result of the wind turbine, suggesting ice throw as one possibility. And if that happens, he said, Falmouth would have to pay a legal settlement of anywhere between $50 to $100 million.
“I think selectmen know what the right thing to do is,” he said. “That is to take down both wind turbines and site them in an appropriate place.”
Maurice M. Rowe of Westmoreland Drive asked whether town officials considered mitigation, litigation and the depreciation of the town’s assets when it first proposed this project. He suggested it would be wise to look at a snapshot at the initial state of the project “and compare that to what we know now.”
“It is a failed project, no doubt,” David R. Moriarty of Lower Road, said, his voice pitched with emotion. “The people are suffering, and they want relief today. Get someone down here [from the state] who can help the people.”
Following the public comment, there were several presentations made that included similar testimony about health impacts caused by the turbine, with J. Malcolm Donald of Ambleside Drive mentioning a study done on about the effects from a 28-turbine wind farm in Mars Hill, Maine.
Citing data from that study, conducted by Dr. Michael A. Nissenbaum, Mr. Donald showed that 77 percent, or 17 of 22 people living next to the turbines woke up in the middle of the night as a result of the machines. The study, he said, also shows that 41 percent of the abutters experienced headaches, while 45 percent expressed some form of depression and 77 percent said they experienced feelings of anger due to their proximity to the turbines.
While he said the study had a strong correlation to the situation in Falmouth, two of his neighbors, Jill V. Worthington and Kathryn L. Elder, both of Blacksmith Shop Road, recently conducted their own analysis of the impacts of the turbine in the neighborhood. The two spoke with 59 of 70 property owners in the area, asking them four questions that included whether the turbine has impacted their use or enjoyment of their properties. Of those questioned, Ms. Elder said 41 people responded that it has.
Ms. Worthington said a number of residents they spoke with were upset about the turbine, but did not feel like they had the “energy to fight city hall.” Others have considered selling their homes, she said.
She choked up when speaking of one neighbor who has not been impacted by the turbine. “My family and 40 others have lost that peace,” she said.
Also providing a brief presentation was the town’s acoustical engineer Christopher Menge of Harris Miller Miller & Hanson of Burlington, which conducted a noise study of the town’s wind turbines in September. He disputed several points made by Todd A. Drummey of Blacksmith Shop Road in June that stated the HMMH study was flawed.
He also focused on both low frequency and infrasound, saying there is no evidence either causes harm, leading Mr. Andersen to blurt out, “Wrong” followed by “Wrong, again!” At that point moderator Nancy Farrell, the chief executive of Regina Villa Associates of Boston, warned Mr. Andersen, “If you speak out again I will have to ask you to leave.”
While much of the discussion centered around Wind 1, Fran Yanuskiewicz of Weston & Sampson, provided a brief update on the status of Wind 2, the town-owned wind turbine paid for by stimulus funds that was erected in January. Mr. Yanuskiewicz expected it would not be operational until October as issues with the interconnection to the grid need to be worked out.
Whether a resolution is found prior to that point is unclear, although Kevin Murphy promised residents that Falmouth is a “can do town and we can solve this problem. Collectively, we can.”
Others were not so sure, exemplified by Terri Pentifallo-Drummey’s comments that what selectmen were doing is just lip service.
While she, her husband and daughter showed up to last night’s hearing, she said her 10-year-old son returned home from summer camp recently and told his family, ‘I’m not sleeping in my room anymore.’ It is too bad I had to spend the entire day moving his room so he could sleep,” she said.