SHELBURNE – More than 30 residents turned out to the Shelburne Planning Board’s regularly scheduled meeting Monday, Oct. 17 to be hear and speak about application for a wind turbine “farm” proposal on Mt Massaemet from Shelburne native and current Littleton resident Frederick “Don” Field.
“I want to remind everyone that Mr. Field has not had the opportunity to present this at a public hearing,” said Planning Board Chairman Vincent Matthew Marchese. “The ZBA (Zoning Board of Appeals) encouraged him to go to the other boards and introduce the issue and ask if there are any questions. I don’t want to facilitate a question-and-answer session right now; that’s for the hearing. I do want to know if you have any thoughts of things you want us to consider or ask the ZBA for clarification.”
The ZBA is set to vote on the issue Thursday, Nov.17at 7:30 p.m. in Memorial Hall.
Before any public comment at this week’s meeting, Marchese read from the Il-page application and supplemental material submitted by Field in which he referred to a dozen bylaw sections and subsections and showed compliance to them.
For example, Section 5.2 gives a maximum height of 35 feet for any building in the residential agricultural district, but a footnote says that the ZBA may grant a special permit for structures higher than 35 feet, as long as the ZBA observes that the structure is compatible with surrounding structures and does not interfere with existing structures. Since the full height of each proposed turbine is 469 feet, consisting of 328 feet for its tower and another 141feet for the radius of the blades, Field is expected to have a special permit granted. However, Marchese plans to ask the ZBA specifically if structures so high require a special permit or a variance.
The biggest concern from residents who attended the meeting was about safety to general inhabitants, namely he “flicker effect,” as movng turbine blades interfere with sunlight shining on a location and low-level sound that causes “wind turbine syndrome” in people and animals who live too close to a wind turbine.
“We all want green energy, but we need to do the research,” sad Jan Voorhis of Buckland. “There needs to be a one-and-a-halfmile setback of turbines from homes to prevent sleep pattern abnormalities. I live three-quarters of a mile from the project.”
She described the debilitating symptoms of wind turbine syndrome, including vertigo, dizziness and loss of appetite, in a person she knew who experienced this during a two-day stay at a friend’s home 1,700 feet away from a l.6-megawatt wind turbine. By comparison, Voorhis said, the effects would be stronger in this case because each of the proposed eight turbines has a capacity of 2.5 megawatts.
Field’s written assertion states there is no human habitation within proximity of the proposed turbines, with the nearest house being on the Davenport property 800 feet away and 200 feet below the base ofthe turbines, and since human habitation on Massaemet is on lower slopes with intervening topography and trees blocking view of the turbines, residents will not be impacted by them.
Janet Sinclair of Buckland pointed to a bylaw section that allows a denial for any construction of structures with a flashing light, annoying sound or bad odor 200 feet or less from populated areas, unless for emergency purposes. She also suggested a balloon test at 500 feet in order to assess noise impact of the proposed turbines on residents.
Dolores Root of Shelburne asked who would perform environment impact assessments and whether local, state or national experts in the field have been contacted. Jean Rees, also from Shelburne, wondered who makes sure that the flicker effect does not impact a lot of people.
Peter Joppe of Shelburne, a 30-year member of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, debunked Field’s assertion that the environment may not be affected. Although Field’s written statement acknowledges environmental concerns from other wind turbine sites, he said that similar concerns for Massaemet will be addressed as they arise. Field also estimated that all clearance related to the site for the construction of turbine operations will increase habitat diversity.
“You will not be able to go to the stone tower because of the noise,” said Joppe. “Dutchy [the late Ellsworth Barnard] left High Ledges [a wildlife sanctuary at the northern end of the ridge] to the people of Shelburne and thousands of people go to these spots each year. The wildlife would be affected and the impact to the Deerfield Watershed would be enormous.”
Field’s statement says that not only would the stone tower, 650 feet away from the nearest proposed turbine, not be impacted, but neither would the radio and cell phone tower 1,400 feet away from the turbines. Some residents thought that the project could disrupt communication signals from that tower.
The set-up also includes a substation on the Field property to bring the generated power to a nearby power line. Access roads that can also be used to get to the stone tower would be widened to bring turbine components to the site, with the transport path going from Route 2 up a temporary road on Dole property. The widening is designed to prevent increased storm run-off erosion.
Deb Andrew of Shelburne asked if the cleaner energy generated from the proposed turbines would offset the “carbon footprint” increase from fuel burned during component manufacture and transport.
From a research packet she passed copies of to board members, Andrew said that property values of homes near wind turbines decrease up to 50 percent, while 80 percent of local taxpayers’ dollars go to projects like this. Joppe agreed, saying that only corporations make money on these projects and said that project money should be instead donated to local residents to make their homes more energy efficient.
Lamia Holland of Buckland said that she doubted that the turbines would produce enough electricity to reduce use of or close any of the coal or nuclear electric-generating plants currently in operation. Joppe added that utilities do not want to buy power from wind sources because of how sporadic it is to obtain adequate wind for turbines to work.
To date, Field, who has been working on the project for the past two years, is still looking for financial backers to help fund the $40 million project. He mentioned financial benefits coming to the town from local business services used, local people employed during construction and extra tax dollars to the town. Regarding the latter, Field said that the ZBA could determine a real property tax, which he guessed would be the town tax rate, currently $12.66/$1,000of valuation, multiplied by the project cost, or roughly $506,400 the first year, or through a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement around $200,000~$240,000 for 25 years.
“The amount of money that comes to the town cannot be determined until the cost is figured from the actual installation and the assessors evaluate it,” Field said.
Others, like Holland, did not believe state and federal governments could be counted on to regulate wind turbines.
Jason Cusimano of Shelburne, who had not heard information on the down-side ofwind power until this meeting and was starting to change his view on the subject, was one who did not understand the special permitting process until explained by Marchese. Likewise, Rees thought there were “so many generalities” about the application presentation.
The planning board will meet again on Wednesday, Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. inMemorial Hall to continue discussion about concerns to bring to the ZBA.
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