SALEM – If nothing else was clear to Mayor Kim Driscoll following a contentious meeting earlier this month on her proposal to build a wind turbine on Winter Island, it was apparent that more work had to be done.
That meeting degenerated into a fusillade of concerns and claims about the potential dangers and negative impacts of a 380-foot wind turbine, many fired by residents from Salem Willows and Marblehead who live near the proposed site.
At that meeting and afterward, there have been comments about noise, costs, perimeter fencing and the sheer size of the windmill, and also concerns about the structure’s safety, the danger of ice projectiles in winter, the threat to bats and birds, and the potential harm to humans.
A few days after the meeting, Driscoll met with members of the Salem Renewable Energy Task Force, which oversaw the turbine study, and local environmentalists to discuss how to answer all the questions and get that information to the public.
That campaign, at least informally, was to begin last night at the Black Lobster restaurant, where Greater Salem Green Drinks held its monthly meeting. At its meeting last month, the environmental group discussed bumblebees. Last night, it was wind energy, and members of the task force were scheduled to attend.
Although a task force member said it was not a formal presentation, he said they were going to answer any questions that were raised.
That public information campaign is expected to continue this fall with neighborhood meetings and other outreach efforts.
“I want to talk to folks in the neighborhoods,” Driscoll said yesterday. “I welcome the opportunity to do outreach there.
“I made an outreach to (Ward 1 City Councilor) Bob McCarthy about doing a neighborhood meeting with the Juniper Point Neighborhood Association” in Salem Willows. “I think that’s the best way to communicate and share information.”
Salem Alliance for the Environment, a citizens group that supports erecting the turbine at Winter Island, is considering its own effort.
“We haven’t done it yet,” said Pat Gozemba, co-chairwoman of SAFE, but the group is “talking about contacting the neighborhood organizations … contacting neighborhood leaders and asking for meetings with their neighbors.”
Gozemba said the wind turbine should be a citywide issue decided by residents across Salem, not just those who live closest to the proposed site. The wind turbine, she said, not only benefits the environment, which affects everyone, but is expected to produce enough revenue to offset the city’s high energy costs and provide money to restore Winter Island.
A city-funded study projected annual revenues from $200,000 to more than $700,000.
“I don’t think that just because some people in the Willows happen right now to be shouting the loudest that it is necessarily a Willows’ decision,” said Gozemba, a Salem Willows resident.
The controversial issue already has sparked a letter-writing campaign in newspapers.
The task force has asked its consultant, Meridian Associates of Beverly, to provide an estimate of what it would cost to do additional research to answer some of the questions raised at the public meeting a few weeks ago.
One of the goals is to publish a list of answers to “frequently asked questions” that could be made available to the public.
There is also talk of site visits to communities with turbines, and even of tethering a balloon at Winter Island to give the public a visual sense of the height of the proposed structure.
Although this is not a race to get the project built, Driscoll said she is racing to get information to residents.
“There certainly are a lot of misconceptions right now fueling the debate,” she said. “My biggest fear is the project isn’t even off the ground, and there is already a lot of misinformation floating around about it.”
Another public meeting is planned for late September.