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Turbines still contentious issue for residents, selectmen

At a special meeting on Monday night, the Board of Selectmen heard from neighbors of Falmouth’s wind turbines, and discussed options for dealing with their concerns.

The Board of Selectmen continued its forum on wind energy on Monday night in the Falmouth High School auditorium, hearing from residents whose properties abut the sites of the Wind 1 and Wind 2 turbines, and who say their health and quality of life have been negatively affected by the machines.

Moderated by Nancy Farrell of Regina Villa Associates, the firm hired to handle the town’s communications and public relations on the issue, the meeting also included the board’s first official articulation of possible steps to deal with the concerns.

President of the Massachusetts State Senate Therese Murray was in attendance, and addressed the meeting, spelling out her support for wind energy in general, and her concerns over the health issues reported by Falmouth residents.

Murray said tougher siting and safety regulations were needed, requiring future turbines to be constructed further from residential areas. She also reaffirmed her support for the technology itself, saying it could lessen Massachusetts’ dependence on outside energy sources, and generate cleaner and more sustainable energy for the commonwealth, and the country.

The board then heard from affected residents—whose anger and frustration with the turbines were evident.

Neil Anderson called his experience with Wind 1 “Sixteen months of torture and abuse,” claiming the turbine’s spinning blades were unacceptably loud. “At times it gets jet-engine loud,” he said.

Diane Funfar said her husband Barry, a veteran of Vietnam, had suffered a relapse of his post-traumatic stress disorder due to the constant disruption of the turbine.

“It is criminal what the town has done to my husband,” Funfar said, then asked the board, “Are you waiting to kill someone before you shut the turbines down?”

Loretta O’Brian said the only real options available to the town were to shut down the turbines, or buy out the properties surrounding them. That sentiment was echoed by several speakers, though others insisted they had no desire to leave their homes, and would accept only the dismantling of the machines.

Colin Murphy claimed that one member of the board had told him she would visit his property when the turbine was at its loudest, but that she had failed to fulfill her pledge, or even return his phone calls.

Murphy said the turbine had led to “sadness, disappointment, and anger” for himself and his family. He urged the board to “Step up to the plate and do your job.”

Chris Menge of Harris Miller Miller & Hanson, the firm hired by the town to consult on turbine issues, said a study conducted by HMMH had found no noise exceeding Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection standards.

Refuting a presentation by resident Todd Drummey at the board’s previous forum on June 6, Menge said increased nighttime noise around Wind 1 was due to rustling leaves and other sources, not to the turbine itself.

Rose Forbes gave a presentation summarizing the Massachusetts Military Reservation’s experience with its own wind turbine, which it constructed to help offset the energy costs of the ongoing cleanup of the base’s contaminated groundwater. Forbes said there had been no complaints of residents of the base, and that the MMR is planning two additional turbines for the near future.

On behalf of the board, Farrell read a list of possible solutions, termed a “Range of Mitigation Scenarios,” which included operating the devices according to manufacturer’s specifications, rather than in response to residents’ concerns; removal and relocation or sale of the turbines; alteration of nearby properties through sound barriers, blackout curtains, and other means; further regulations of the circumstances in which the turbines are activated, to compliment the existing restriction on the use of Wind 1 when wind speeds exceed 10 meters per second; and Option Five, “Property Acquisition,” which could see Falmouth spend tens of millions of dollars to buy out properties surrounding the turbines.

The board voted to task its consultants with developing a plan to investigate the cost and feasibility of the first four options, though it stopped short of including Option Five in the scope.

Acting Town Manager Heather Harper estimated that the planning would take a few weeks, after which several more weeks would be required to actually conduct the studies, meaning the board could have cost estimates in its hands sometime in August.

Any major action would likely have to be voted on at Town Meeting, and possibly as a ballot question in a general election. It is unclear whether the board will be ready to recommend concrete steps by the time of the Fall Town Meeting.

Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Mary Pat Flynn said the cost analysis and the town’s consideration of a consensus-building strategy would help move the issue along in the near future. She also thanked residents for attending the meeting.

“We need you here,” said Flynn, “because we need to work with you.”