SALEM – There are public meetings, and then there are public meetings.
The one the other night on Mayor Kim Driscoll’s proposal to build a 380-foot wind turbine at Winter Island was a doozy.
It had everything.
Nearly 100 Salem and Marblehead residents (i.e., Hatfields and McCoys) in the same room. Former public officials losing their cool. A mayor trying to keep steam from coming out her ears.
On top of that, everyone was packed into a hot room without air conditioning to debate the merits of renewable energy.
Where to start?
The meeting began with former Mayor Tony Salvo demanding to speak first. As he started talking out against the plan, a woman on the other side of the room, a windmill supporter, asked him to identify himself. This was like asking Tiger Woods to identify himself at Augusta. Everyone knows Tony.
Of course, the woman was from Marblehead and apparently didn’t recognize the 83-year-old chief executive who ran the city from 1984-89.
Then a representative from HealthLink, the environmental group founded in Marblehead, read a statement in favor of the turbine. That prompted Councilor-at-large Steve Pinto to rise and innocently ask the female speaker where she was from, knowing the answer all along.
“Marblehead,” she said.
Kevin Harvey, the former councilor who lost to Driscoll in the mayor’s race a few years ago, then rose to speak against the proposal. Of course, he has a genuine interest – he lives just down the street from Winter Island.
As the evening wore on, Harvey seemed to get more and more heated, so to speak, interrupting pro-wind speaker after speaker. When environmental advocate Jeff Barz-Snell spoke in favor of the turbine, Harvey seemed to get especially boiled.
At one point, he blurted out: “I don’t like being preached to.”
That seemed like a strange thing to say to Barz-Snell, who is also known as the Rev. Jeffrey Barz-Snell, minister of The First Church in Salem.
Many of the Marblehead residents in the room – and there were a lot of them – who opposed the wind turbine live in the Naugus Head area directly across the harbor from Winter Island. After years of complaining of coal dust from the power plant, now they are worried about noise from the wind turbine. One man said the current noise is so bad he can hear voices from Salem, including conversations of patrons leaving Salem bars that waft across the water.
One of the Marbleheaders at the meeting was so angry that he wrote to Driscoll warning he would fight the windmill “with every resource that I have available.” His letter concluded: “Please do not further burden the Town of Marblehead for Salem’s financial gain.”
(Memo to Marblehead resident: Every time you flush your toilet, some of your town’s burden sets sail for Salem.)
Lots of health concerns were raised. One man said he heard that the rotation of the turbine blade can alter a person’s heartbeat.
After more than two hours, Driscoll tried to wind the meeting down by giving the last word to an official from Hull, a town with two turbines that has embraced wind energy. That was kind of like having Jimmy the Greek wrap up a meeting on the merits of casino gambling.
Before Mr. Hull spoke, Salvo stood up to make a last impassioned plea to save Winter Island. He then stormed, so to speak, from the room. OK, maybe he didn’t storm, but he certainly left in a huff and stood in the doorway, briefly sniping with a pro-winder.
At this point, Driscoll, probably wondering why she ever ran for mayor, pleaded for cooler heads to prevail.
Wind War II is tentatively scheduled for the fall.