FAIRHAVEN – Residents who are worried about the health effects of two large wind turbines to be built on town land got a chilly reception from a majority of the Board of Health Monday night.
Although they were removed from the agenda, 25-30 residents still attended the meeting with many expressing outrage at the board’s actions.
Chairman Peter DeTerra said the issue was removed from their agenda “because of the lawsuit.”
But Ann DeNardis, the attorney for about 10 residents who were involved in litigation, said after a judge denied the group’s request to reopen their lawsuit, the board had no reason to not let them speak.
“You had no authority to remove it from your agenda,” Ms. DeNardis said.
Health board member Jeannine Lopes said, “Before you can be on an agenda, you need to submit scientific factual evidence for us to review.”
In response, an audience member said, “This is your job,” to determine if there is any truth to the claims of ill health effects from wind turbines.
“You were elected to maintain the health of this town,” resident Dawn Devlin said.
Ms. Devlin said, “Certain people want this to go through for monetary reasons and forget about the health of people in this town that you have sworn to protect.”
But Ms. Lopes said, “This has been going on for five years,” through various town boards, although the health board has not been involved.
Town officials have pointed out that the turbines were approved at a Town Meeting.
The town cleared land on Veterans Day near the Board of Public Works on Arsene Street for two 1.5 megawatt wind turbines it plans to build. That raised the ire of neighbors in the vicinity, who were taken off guard on a holiday when town offices were closed.
In 2008, their lawsuit was dropped by a judge after the developer, CCI Energy, withdrew its application for a special permit. The town went forward with the project, however, making it possible by designating it a municipal project that is not subject to special permit regulations. The town also took advantage of changes in state law that made it easier to install wind turbines.
Some of the residents in the lawsuit are about 1,600 feet from the proposed wind turbines in Fairhaven.
Residents who oppose the turbines said there were no public meetings to alert or inform them of the steps the town was taking to revive the wind turbines. Because of the litigation and contract issues, selectmen discussed the turbines in executive session, announcing months ago that they had worked out a way to move forward.
Donna McKenna, who had initiated their being placed on Monday’s agenda, said she was never notified that they were taken off.
Board of Health agent Patricia Fowle said she had asked the secretary to notify her.
Ms. McKenna said town officials keep saying the opponents are a small group of nine to 10 residents who filed the lawsuit. But she said she’s obtained 170 signatures from abutters.
“It’s not a handful of people. It’s a large amount of people in this town,” she said.
Board members would not allow a resident of Falmouth to speak about the health effects from a wind turbine there, which has at least temporarily been shut down. Kenneth Pottel, who has been active in the Windwise group, said the man, who is a veteran, drove all the way from Falmouth to attend the meeting.
But Chairman DeTerra said it would be illegal under the open meeting law to let the man speak because the issue was not on the evening’s agenda.
The frustration of the audience grew heated at times, but one abutter, Grant Menard, who is concerned for the health of his two children, took a quieter tone in asking the board to consider the potential health risks. “Please look into this deeper than you already have,” he said.
At one point, a few audience members said their voices would be heard at the ballot box at the town election next April.
“Believe me, you will go,” said one audience member.
The only board member who is up for reelection next year, however, is Dolores Caton, who was the only board member to express any sympathy for the residents’ concerns.
Ms. Caton said she was out of town last week when the residents were taken off the board’s agenda. She said it was difficult to read the literature she was given on the wind turbines because it was a Chinese translation.
“That’s not the issue,” she said, however. “It’s a health issue.”
Ms. Caton said she wanted to see more information on the possible health effects of wind turbines. “I’d like to see all of us satisfied some way, somehow.”
But Mr. DeTerra would not guarantee the group that it will be on the agenda for the next meeting, on Dec. 19. He said they would have to submit information first on the health effects for the board to review.
“So if you don’t like the information, we can’t be on the agenda?” someone asked.
After the meeting, for which two police officers were on detail, Ms. Lopes said the agenda is “up to the discretion” of the chairman.
Outside the meeting room, Ms. Devlin said she is not an abutter to the proposed turbines, but is still concerned about them. “The problem is, the turbines have been discussed in executive session,” she said.
Speaking of their proximity to Sconticut Neck Road, she said, “I think the new Wood School vote would not have happened,” if voters had known about the wind turbines.
Ms. McKenna said, “I am for wind turbines, but not 1,600 feet from my house.”
Ms. McKenna said she voted against the turbines at Town Meeting. Among those who could be affected by the noise of the wind turbines and the so-called flicker effect from the blades, she said, are autistic children in her neighborhood and someone who recently went through radiation and cancer treatments.
Ms. McKenna said the selectmen just care about the money. CCI will be paying the town $100,000 a year for leasing the property and the town will get electricity credits.
As for the Board of Health’s demands that opponents provide scientific information, she said, “Why do I have to do their work for them?”
The town of Dartmouth’s Board of Health recently formed a subcommittee to study the health effects, if any, of wind turbines.
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