WESTPORT – Westport’s Energy Committee has officially dropped plans to continue work on the proposed wind turbine in the town forest, next to the Hix Bridge Road fire station.
The committee met Tuesday, Nov. 29, voting 5-0, with three committee members absent, to make a recommendation to the Board of Selectmen to drop the location, said committee chair Antone Vieira.
The same motion applied the data already collected by Atlantic Design Engineers in its feasibility study to other proposed sites for turbines and solar projects, especially the transfer station, he said.
At a Nov. 21 public hearing about the town forest location, abutters came out in strong opposition to the location, including the delivery of three petitions with about 800 signatures total.
The first, with 155 signatures, was from parishioners of St. John the Baptist Church, which has three buildings in close proximity to the proposed site, said Rev. Leonard Hindsley. It cited concerns for the health of parishioners from “turbine sickness,” caused by flicker and noise pollution, and said that turbines have fallen over and caught fire, which poses a safety threat.
Resident Ann Barnes, whose husband is on the energy committee, presented a second petition with 378 signatures. This petition said that the turbine would ruin the aesthetics of Central Village, desecrate the historic Beech Grove Cemetery next to it, and put risk to residents and graves there.
The closest abutter, Dan Michaels, also presented a petition with about 200 names against the turbine.
The Michaels family lives 825 feet from the base of the proposed town forest turbine, but at the transfer station, the closest abutter would be about 1,900 feet away, said Mr. Vieira.
If a turbine were installed there, the transfer station itself might need to be moved, but “we believe that if we can keep it away from residential use, it would make sense.”
The committee favors a large turbine, which would increase revenues for the town, he said.
“We’re looking at that large turbine, but moving it to the other side of Route 88 to the transfer station,” Mr. Vieira said. “This week Simon [Thomas of Atlantic] is working on displays of that, what it would look like at that site, and initial feasibility pieces.”
At the forest site, a large turbine was not possible because it would have exceeded noise regulations and flicker standards in spite of optional software that could feather the blades (stop the turbine from spinning) in certain scenarios to minimize the light and noise pollution, said Mr. Thomas at the public hearing.
A smaller turbine would not have created as much revenue as the committee would have liked.
Many in favor of forest turbine
But not everyone was against the town forest site.
More than 60 residents turned out to the Nov. 21 public hearing, which had to be moved from the town hall basement to the annex to accommodate the crowd.
Resident Elaine Ostroff, who lives in Central Village, said that she spends a lot of time in the cemetery and even built a bench there. She thinks that a turbine would not be at all unattractive.
“I look up and think, ‘Boy it would be really nice to see that wind turbine,’” she said.
Tony Connors and his wife Sharon have plots in Beech Grove, he said, “We don’t plan to move there until we are dead, at which point we don’t expect to be affected by flicker or noise.”
Former energy committee chair David Dionne said that he has been to dozens of alternative energy meetings all over Bristol County and there are always the same two things said at each.
“Everybody’s in favor of renewable power – everybody … and the other thing is ‘just not here,’” he said.
Everything in a town is a compromise – think about being behind a school bus, he said. Buses can be a nuisance and they are an obnoxious color, but the goods outweigh the bads.
For turbines, once it’s built, “there’s no more investment of carbon fuels,” he said. The fuel is free, it’s renewable, and it’s clean. And “it’s native to wherever you live.”
Some residents were in favor of turbines but still voiced some concerns.
One gentleman told the audience that installing a carousel type turbine could alleviate some of the concerns with the proposed project, including lessening maintenance and reducing the risk of blade or ice throwing.
Resident Brenda Burke wanted to hear more about possible health issues from flicker and noise. Martha Broad of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center said that to the best of her knowledge there is no definitive evidence of health issues being caused by turbines, but there are reports of people finding the effects a nuisance.
The EPA is releasing a study soon on this issue, which will be posted to its website, she said.
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