Neighbors of the town’s wind turbines tried to persuade the Falmouth Board of Selectmen last night to support a Town Meeting article to shut down the machines. After some discussion, selectmen unanimously voted to wait and make their recommendation on Town Meeting floor.
Barry J. Funfar of Ridgeview Drive, West Falmouth, submitted the petitioners article that calls for the town to suspend the operations of both turbines until research and studies show that no harm is being done to nearby residents “to the satisfaction of the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Health and until all future options of both turbines are fully explored…”
Last night, Mr. Funfar tried to convince selectmen to support his article, although the recommendation does not affect whether Town Meeting will have a chance to vote on the article. All petitioners articles go on the warrant, whether or not the selectmen vote their recommendation.
Before the discussion, Selectmen Chairman Mary (Pat) Flynn explained that Mr. Funfar would have five minutes to present his article, and then selectmen would discuss the article for five minutes.
“This article automatically goes on the warrant,” Ms. Flynn said. “It doesn’t, in a sense, matter whether the board votes indefinite postponement or if the board votes its recommendation.”
She said there would be no public comment at the meeting last night, because there will be ample opportunity for the public to speak at the precinct meetings and at Town Meeting. About a dozen members of the audience were there to support Mr. Funfar.
Selectman Brent V.W. Putnam disagreed with Ms. Flynn. “I think it’s very important to hear public feedback,” he said. Ms. Flynn explained that there was not enough time scheduled on the agenda for a full public discussion of all of the articles on the Town Meeting warrant.
As for the turbines, Ms. Flynn said, selectmen have charged an engineering firm to come up with a cost benefit analysis for four possible scenarios: decommissioning the turbines, relocating the turbines, mitigating the sound created by the turbines, and changing the way the turbines are operating.
Mr. Funfar then approached the lectern and read from a prepared speech. “We troubled Falmouth residents who have been severely affected by the town’s Wind 1 turbine for the past 18 months are attempting to use the political process to alleviate our ills,” said Mr. Funfar.
He said the town became aware of the health problems soon after the turbine went into operation, but has done little to change it.
“What kind of government knowingly harms its own citizens?” he asked. “Why do you feel justified in continuing to hurt us?”
He said the selectmen have already admitted that there have been unanticipated problems with the turbines and have shut down the turbine when wind speeds exceed 23 miles per hour. “We appreciate that, but that is not enough,” Mr. Funfar said.
“Would you continue to operate an unsafe water treatment plant because it cost too much money to fix it?” he asked. “Would you leave open an unsafe bridge because if it collapsed, it would only kill a few people?”
“Why is it okay for you to keep hurting us with your turbines?” he asked. “Will you please complete this sentence: we know that we are hurting you, but we believe that we should keep hurting you because…”
He said the onus is on the town to prove there are no harmful effects from the turbines. “So if you are going to study the problem, go ahead and study the problem, but turn off the machines while you think about it.”
He said sound studies by state agencies are underway, but those agencies are biased toward wind energy and have the stated mission to accelerate the success of wind and solar energy.
“There are more studies showing the effects of wind turbine noise on populations, more by the day as wind power is pushing itself on more and more victims,” he said.
“So will the town do the right thing and shut the turbines down, or will it allow the issue to decay into a long and costly battle in courts?” he said. He concluded by asking selectmen to support his petitioners article.
Selectman Melissa C. Freitag was the first to respond to Mr. Funfar. “I’m sorry for the stress and disturbances,” she said, but told him she would not support the article. She said she has received more than a dozen e-mails from residents asking her to vote against the article. If it were to pass Town Meeting, she said, the turbines would never be turned on again, because the article states that town has to prove that the turbines have no negative health effects, which could be nearly impossible.
There are also economic reasons to oppose the article, she said. “The turbines are generating not only energy but money for perhaps dozens of positions in town,” she said.
Mr. Putnam said that the article is not binding and Town Meeting has no authority to shut the turbines down.
“I think it’s fair to say that if this board wanted to shut down the turbines, we could put it on the agenda and do it tomorrow,” Mr. Putnam said.
He said he would withhold his recommendation because he wanted Town Meeting to make its recommendation to the board of selectmen. “Town Meeting needs to give us an advisory vote,” he said.
Selectman Kevin E. Murphy said as a businessman he needed all of the facts before he could make a decision.
“A lot of times I want to do something with my heart, and my heart is telling me to recommend this article,” he said. But considering that there is money involved, he cannot simply vote with his heart. “Whether folks like it or not, money does play into this somewhat,” he said.
Selectmen need more information, he said, including what the consequences of turning the turbines off would be.
“You’ve been told this was a home run,” he said to Mr. Funfar and the other supporters of the article. “It surely wasn’t a home run; we know that now.”
Ms. Flynn was the last to respond to Mr. Funfar and she said it was important to note that the selectmen’s recommendation, whether for or against the article, is simply advisory.
Selectmen voted unanimously to hold their recommendation until Town Meeting floor.
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