SHELBURNE FALLS – At least 40 people came to Monday’s Shelburne Planning Board meeting to hear more about the 20-megawatt Mount Massaemet wind farm proposal – and to make sure their concerns would be considered during the special permit process.
Residents living closest to the site of the commercial windfarm expressed concerns about the potential for low-level, “swish” sounds of the rotating turbine blades at high rotation speeds and about traffic concerns during construction – when the 282-foot-diameter, one-piece turbine blades are being trucked up to the site on narrow, curving country roads.
They also questioned the possible environmental impact, including whether ambient noise, flicker or visual impact would mar the enjoyment of nearby places such as High Ledges or the stone firetower.
And Buckland residents, who say they will be able to see the eight turbines from their homes, urged the board to “be a good neighbor” in addressing .their concerns.
Shelburne landowner Frederick D. “Don” Field, now of Littleton, said he’s spent two years developing this proposal for a commercial windfarm. He said the 2-mile-long ridge of Mount Massaemet is one of the best locations in the state for a commercial windfarm.
The town’s Zoning Board of Appeals is to decide whether the windfarm will get a special permit, but the Planning Board is reviewing the proposal and may advise the ZBA to conduct more research on some aspects.
This week, the Planning Board read the proposal aloud and got feedback from residents on their concerns.
The Planning Board will continue its discussion of conditions and possible recommendations to the ZBA at a meeting on Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. in Memorial Hall.
The ZBA public hearing takes place on Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m., also in Memorial Hall.
The proposal calls for seven 2.5-megawatt wind turbines to be built on the eastern side of the ridge, and one turbine to the west of the slope. The ridge is located about seven miles from Greenfield, and runs through land that is owned by the Field, Davenport, Gould and Dole families. The westerly slope is steep and heavily forested, while the eastern slope is gentler and is former farmland that has grown in with trees. A radio tower is located at the southern end of the ridge, and the Massachusetts High Ledges Audubon Sanctuary is located at the northern end.
According to the proposal, the turbines and their towers will all be made in the U.S.; the turbines will be 328 feet high and the three blades will be 282 feet in diameter. That puts the maximum height of the structures at 469 feet when a blade is at the highest rotation point. (In earlier presentations, the tower height with the rotor blade had been given as 420 feet.)
Closed-circuit surveillance cameras will run near the towers and on the electricity substation, located on a lower stretch of the Field property. Also the substation will be fenced, to prevent unauthorized people from entering.
The transporting of the large rotor blades and towers will be done via Route 2 and then up to the site by way of a temporary road through the Dole property. After construction, the access road will be gated, but could also be used for access to the circa 1909 fire tower and the nearby radio tower.
The towers will be spaced about three rotor-diameters apart, to allow for maximum efficiency.
“The turbines will extend above the ridge line of Mount Massaemet and will be clearly visible from viewpoints within (Shelburne) and the surrounding region,” says the eight-page proposal.
“For the most part, the turbines will be sheltered from view within sizeable portions of Shelburne Falls by buildings, trees, and the steep topography of Mount Massaemet.”
According to the proposal, “flicker” could occur at the Davenport and Gould homes, to the east of the turbines, but homes on the west side, or in Shelburne Falls would not be affected. Flicker is a variation in light created when the moving turbine blade comes between the sun and a location during either morning or evening periods.
Field told the board he did not know how much revenue the roughly $40 million turbine project would generate for Shelburne, but he thought it would be substantial – either in the form of taxes or as “payment in lieu of taxes.” He said he will be meeting with assessors next week to discuss that.
“In any case,” he added. “It’s a lot of money for” very little (town) services.”
The proposal argues that the wind turbines will have very little impact on public health, safety and general welfare since they would sit within 600 acres of uninhabited land. It argues that land cleared for wind-turbine construction will be restored to farmland, as it was 100 years ago. And that there will be no long-term impact on town services, cultural resources or the character of the town.
But some residents had concerns.
“I’ve tried very hard to like wind (power),” said Peter Joppe of Shelburne Center, “but it’s too sporadic; utilities don’t really want to buy this windpower. These are some of my concerns. But the last 30 years, I have spent time at Audubon (Audubon Society land just north of one of the towers), at the stone tower and these turbines will be right on top of this.
“You’re not going to enjoy the town because of the noise. Dutchy (Ellsworth “Dutchy” Barnard) left High Ledges to the people of Shelburne, and thousands of people go, to these spots every year. This is going to have a big impact on these things.”
Instead of subsidizing wind turbines, Joppe said he thought the state and federal governments should be giving grants to people to make their homes more energy efficient, so they would need less energy to begin with.
Deborah Andrews of Bridge Street presented each board member with a packet of research she had done, and asked whether the “carbon footprint” reduction of the wind turbines would be offset by the fuel consumed to manufacture and transport the components to the site. She thought there might be “significant alteration” of Patten, Little Mohawk Trail and Reynolds roads, which would need to be widened for the trucks.
Jean Rees of Patten Road said there were “so many generalities” about the proposal. “Who follows through and makes sure the ‘flicker affect’ doesn’t impact a lot of people?” she asked.
Lamia Holland was among several Buckland residents who urged the Planning Board to “be good neighbors,” since many Buckland residents live as close to the turbine site as the Shelburne residents, but have no official say in Shelburne’s town affairs.
“We’re all for green power,” she said, “but these wind turbines are not going to shut down our existing power plants. We’re not going to be stopping coal-burning plants.”
Turning to Field, Holland said, “I don’t doubt you or your sincerity. I just think we really need to weigh out what it’s going to do to the community, how it could affect our environment, our property values.”
“We have to count on you and the (Zoning Board of Appeals),” she said, “because there is no vote for this in town – for either Buckland or Shelburne.”
Planning Board Chairman V. Matthew Marchese repeatedly explained that his board’s role in this is to advise the ZBA, but that the ZBA ultimately makes the decision about the project.
Because Shelburne is a close-knit community, one of the five Planning Board members has recused himself from the discussion and any vote, based on what he described as a conflict of interest, and two other members read disclosures; to prevent the appearance of a conflict, as was recommended by the state Ethics Commission.
Charles Washer will not participate because his sister-in-law is among the landowners to lease property for the turbine project. Planning Board members Christopher Davenport and Beth Simmonds read statements disclosing that they have family ties to landowners that either abut the project or who are considering leasing land for the project.
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