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Group to fight the plan for a turbine; Salem, Marblehead residents team with lawyer, engineers

SALEM – The simmering skirmish over the proposed wind turbine at Winter Island has escalated into a full-blown wind war.

A group of Salem and Marblehead residents opposed to the nearly 400-foot turbine has formed an organization called Salem Wind, which has hired an attorney and sound engineers to fight the $4.2 million proposal.

The lawyer, Christopher Senie, has represented residents in wind battles in Falmouth, Plymouth and other communities.

Over the past two weekends, members of Salem Wind have gone around Salem Willows and other neighborhoods passing out pamphlets about the controversial issue.

The opponents even have a website – salemwind.org – that features videos of an allegedly noisy wind farm in Wisconsin and residents’ complaints in Maine.

“Wind turbines do not belong in densely populated areas where residents would be barraged with constant noise, flickering light and sweeping shadows from the turning blades,” Ed Moriarty, president of Salem Wind, said in a prepared statement.

“We have listened to the city of Salem’s proposal and understand the need for alternative sources of renewable energy. However, there is well-documented evidence that the proposed wind turbine on Winter Island would be harmful to residents in Salem and Marblehead.”

Salem Wind is taking on Mayor Kim Driscoll, who has proposed erecting a 1.5-megawatt wind turbine that would generate $200,000 to $700,000 in annual revenue. The recommended site on Winter Island is near the harbormaster’s office at the edge of the 27-acre waterfront park.

Although Salem has not filed a formal proposal, it is well along in the planning process.

The city’s Renewable Energy Task Force has been studying the issue for several years. The city has completed a one-year analysis of wind speeds on Winter Island, applied for grants and hired consultants, who did a detailed report.

A public meeting last month drew many supporters, but also strong opposition from Salem residents who live near the proposed turbine, principally along Winter Island Road and in Salem Willows, and Marblehead residents who live across the water from the site.

The organized opposition began forming after the August public meeting, which included a PowerPoint presentation by the city showing a tentative timetable with the start of construction next summer and completion of the turbine in the fall of 2012.

The city’s chief energy official later said it was probably a mistake to show a timetable based on an ambitious, best-case scenario. The city plans another public meeting this fall to address questions and concerns raised at the meeting.

Salem Wind is a “coalition of local families who reside in the greater Salem area,” according to its press release.

Moriarty, the head of the organization, is a Salem lawyer and former member of the Salem Board of Appeal who lives on Winter Island Road.

Two other officers are from Marblehead: Vice President Peter Carlton and Treasurer Matt Herring. A letter sent to Driscoll and city councilors last week was signed by eight Marblehead residents and 11 from Salem, including former Health Board Chairman Len Milaszewski.

In its press release, the group said an “industrial wind turbine” like the one proposed for Winter Island has been linked to “well-documented health risks of sleep deprivation, headache, nausea and ear pressure for people within 1.25 miles.”

The sound engineers hired by Salem Wind contend the city consultants did a faulty study that “under-predicts” the noise the Salem turbine would make.

In the same press release, Senie, the group’s lawyer, said that “99 percent” of turbines in the United States are in places with a lot of land and few people, not somewhere like Salem with a much denser population.

“A turbine suited to the Texas Panhandle, where a wind turbine developer may have thousands of acres of land to work with, does not fit in Salem, especially on Winter Island Park,” the attorney stated.