CHARLTON – While the Planning Board was about to grant site plan approval to three controversial wind turbines, the Board of Health satisfied protesters by enacting a regulation to forestall the projects.
Whether the health board has overstepped its legal authority may be questioned tomorrow when plans for a fourth, smaller turbine are considered.
“The way it’s written now, it does not allow the construction of the Overlook and Bay Path turbines,” Board of Health Chairman Matt Gagner said in a recent interview.
Some residents and local officials have contested plans that place two 330-foot-tall turbines 780 feet apart on Overlook Masonic Health Center property and another 330-foot-tall turbine about one mile away at Bay Path Regional Vocational Technical High School.
Both projects were scrutinized in a series of Planning Board site plan reviews that drew crowds of residents who said they support green energy but oppose the center-of-town location.
The Overlook’s twin turbines would be about 1,000 feet from homes and 2,000 feet from the town recreation fields, public library, Charlton Elementary School and the historic town center.
The Planning Board’s authority was limited to upholding state regulations for the turbine site design, noise and shadow flicker.
Sustainable Energy Developments of Ontario, N.Y., the company hired to design and install both projects, demonstrated the three turbines, individually and combined, meet all state requirements.
The night before the Planning Board approved the site plans for both projects in May, the health board unanimously adopted a turbine siting regulation that calls for 2,500 feet between the wind turbine base and any existing dwelling or building. The regulation, the health board said, is necessary for the protection of the health and welfare of the citizens of Charlton.
The matter was considered in a public hearing, at which residents presented research and concerns regarding the potential health and quality-of-life effects of infrasound and flicker.
Wind generator infrasound is an emerging health concern not yet regulated by the state, according to officials. Mr. Gagner said legal counsel and the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards advised that the health board was acting within its authority to establish siting setbacks.
Overlook and Bay Path officials were not notified of the public hearing or the outcome.
David C. Turner, Overlook president and CEO, said he heard of the new regulation from a third party shortly afterward.
“We’re still in the process of exploring it. We haven’t had the time to see whether they have the legal authority to do it,” he said.
Bay Path Superintendent-Director David P. Papagni said the 330-foot turbine to supply electricity to the school is moving forward and the planned third-party installation is out to bid.
Meanwhile, Mr. Papagni is meeting with the Board of Health tomorrow to seek the approval needed to gain a permit for a second 30-foot turbine planned for less than 2,500 feet from the school.
“It (the regulation) applies to all turbines, no matter how big. They can come to us and request a variance or special permit. I’m for letting them build it,” Mr. Gagner said of the smaller turbine.
Recently approved by the Planning Board, the 2.4 kilowatt turbine is to be used “for educational purposes only” in the school’s new clean energy house; a satellite classroom that integrates green energy technologies with traditional hands-on trade instruction.
When asked if he would seek legal resolutions if denied by the board, Mr. Papagni said, “I have no comment at this time. If the small one is denied, we will probably appeal. This law was not in effect when we started our plans. We’ve been abiding by the law, and now they changed the law.”
Mr. Papagni added he will follow the direction of the Southern Worcester County Regional Vocational School Committee, which is comprised of representatives from Auburn, Charlton, Dudley, North Brookfield, Oxford, Paxton, Rutland, Southbridge, Spencer and Webster.
The Board of Selectmen also denounced both projects in April and asked Overlook and Bay Path officials to table their plans until more research is done on turbine health effects.
The state Departments of Environmental Protection and Public Health have since convened an expert panel to explore the effects of infrasound and other potential turbine health risks. The panel includes specialists in public health, sleep disturbances, infrasound, epidemiology, behavioral neuroscience and pediatrics.
“None of these people are connected to the wind industry. Their input and best practices will help us form decisions for what we do next,” DEP spokesman Edmund J. Coletta said Friday.
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