Falmouth Board of Health decided last night to recommend changing the operations of the town-owned wind turbines to ease negative health effects on neighbors when Falmouth Town Meeting will consider shutting down the turbines next month.
The board made the unanimous decision last night to support the spirit of the petitioners article, but not the exact wording. Article 9 asks Town Meeting to suspend operations of Wind 1 and Wind 2 until research can show that no harm is being done to nearby residents by the Falmouth turbines. Wind 1 is currently operational, but shuts down when wind speeds exceed 23 miles per hour. Wind 2 is completed, but not yet operational.
Board of health members said they could not support the exact wording of the article because it would be almost impossible to prove that no harm is being done. The board decided instead to endorse the intent of the article after nine neighbors implored the board to respond to their complaints. “A couple of us are pretty much toast,” said Neil P. Andersen of Blacksmith Shop Road, one of the closest abutters to the town turbine. “We recognize there’s a problem in the wording [of the Town Meeting article], but there’s a moratorium on wind turbines in this town that serves everybody except us. We’re just asking you to back us.”
Mr. Andersen’s comments turned the board’s focus away from the wording of the article, and instead to its intent. The comment came toward the end of an hour and a half of testimony from neighbors, and discussion by the board. “Is the sense of the board that turbine operations should be suspended or modified?” asked board member Stephen R. Rafferty. “Do we support that something needs to be done?” “Something has to be done.
Yeah, I’m there,” said board member George F. Heufelder. He said he might be able to support suspending the operation of the turbine, if the article was amended so that it could be turned on again. But board member Jared V. Goldstone said he would not support the suspension of the turbine operation, but he would support further modification of its operations. As an example of a modification, Dr. Goldstone said, “We could shut it off at night and let it crank during the day.” The neighbors in the audience voiced their opposition to that idea, and Dr. Goldstone responded. “It was just an example.”
Board member John B. Waterbury said he did not support suspending the turbine operation, but he did support further modifications that could include changing the operation of the turbines during certain wind speeds, times of day and wind directions. Chairman Gail Harkness said she might be able to support the suspension of the turbine if there was an end date to the suspension.
Even if Town Meeting approves the petitioners article, it may not actually change the operations of the turbines, said Todd A. Drummey of Blacksmith Shop Road, who wrote the text of the petitioners article. The turbine operations are under control of the board of selectmen, he told the board of health.
Two weeks ago, Falmouth Board of Selectmen had a discussion about the petitioners article, and selectmen said the board could shut the turbines down whenever it wanted. But selectmen decided to hold its recommendation until Town Meeting, until further information is available about the costs of making changes to the wind turbines.
At the beginning of the discussion last night, one of the petitioners, Barry A. Funfar of Ridgeview Drive, West Falmouth, asked the board to declare that the turbines have created a health emergency in Falmouth. Mr. Funfar said that he and others who live in the area have experienced depression and suicidal tendencies as a result of the turbines.
Board members declined to take that action, but Mr. Heufelder said it has been personally difficult for him to respond to the turbine complaints, because many residents have symptoms, but the science supporting their claims is not definitive. “Is there harm being done and we’re not doing anything about it?” asked Mr. Heufelder, who is also the director of the Barnstable County Department of Health and the Environment. He said, as a public health official, he is used to responding to complaints, but he is not sure how many complaints about wind turbines require a response. “What’s that number for wind? I don’t know. I don’t even know where to begin with wind turbines,” he said. There are people in the Falmouth community who have both psychological and physical symptoms from the turbines, he said. “There are symptoms. They are there,” Mr. Heufelder said. “The bottom line is that we’re the board of health and we have to be concerned about the health of the community.” Residents who live near the turbines did not have the symptoms before the turbines were built, but they do have symptoms now, he said.
Mr. Heufelder said he is not sure how many people have to be affected before the board of health responds. “I don’t know what that number is. I know that it’s not one, but don’t know it’s not 10,” he said. Dr. Waterbury said that as a scientist he needs to see credible peer-reviewed literature about the health effects of turbines. There is no peer-reviewed literature that shows direct health effects are caused by wind turbines, he said.
Board members directed their frustration at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, because it has not responded to a request for guidance about the sound measurements of wind turbines. Different sound measurements can yield different results, and the neighbors of the turbines say that the measurements used by the state are inadequate for measuring turbine sounds. “Wind turbine noise is so different than any other kind of noise,” Mr. Funfar said. The nearby highway does not drown out the noise, he said, and the noise and annoyance get worse over time. “We don’t get used to this sound. It makes us crazier and crazier,” Mr. Funfar said.
Dr. Goldstone said the health effects from wind turbines have to be studied before the causes can be known for sure. He likened it to figuring out that cigarettes are a direct cause for cancer. It took hundreds of years of people smoking, he said, to determine that cancer is caused by smoking. After proof was presented in the 1950s, it still took another 50 years before smoking was banned in public places. With wind turbines, the health effects are still being determined, he said.
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