FAIRHAVEN – The noise that erupted in Town Hall Monday night, after Dolores Caton said she wanted a legal opinion on whether the Board of Health could challenge the wind turbine project, was loud enough to have hailed the arrival of a rock star.
Caton, one of three members of the Board of Health, said she disagreed with Chairman Peter DeTerra’s statement that the board could do nothing about the turbines because no nuisance exists now.
“What I would like to get immediately, if not sooner, is legally what we can or cannot do. I want that in writing from the town,” she said, setting off a torrent of applause and whistles from those present.
Caton and DeTerra’s comments Monday night were made after nearly two hours of presentations and comments from residents, most of whom spoke against the town’s plan to build two 400-foot wind turbines off Arsene Street.
DeTerra, who initially read from a prepared statement saying the board could not do anything without “a legitimate nuisance to go to court,” later agreed, when asked, to approach selectmen for their permission to ask town counsel for a legal opinion. Since the board has no budget for legal matters, selectmen must first approve the expense, explained health agent Pat Fowler.
Close to 100 people attended the meeting, filling the meeting room and spilling out into the hallway. Many spoke against the project while a few spoke in favor. Others seemed to be there to learn more about the effects from wind turbines.
Curt Devlin, a Main Street resident and software architect, gave an extended presentation for Windwise on a 2011 research study conducted on the Falmouth wind turbines. Although not a scientist, Devlin said he is no stranger to research and has worked with experts in various fields, including medical research.
The research he was presenting, called the McPherson study for the Falmouth resident who initiated it, found that health problems due to infrasound – sound frequencies that are so low they are not audible – exist.
In their summary statement, researchers called their findings “more than just suggestive.” “Our experience of the adverse health effects reported by others confirms that industrial wind turbines can produce real discomfort and adverse health impacts,” they wrote.
Devlin likened the effects described in the study, including sleep disturbance, vertigo and nausea, to seasickness, which can affect some people but not others, despite the two groups experiencing the same marine conditions. “Imagine explaining seasickness to someone who has never experienced it,” he told board members.
Citing the study, he described infrasound as a rapid, powerful pulsing of low frequency sound that affects the inner ear and can disturb balance and cause pressure in the head and chest. The McPherson study not only documents that infrasound can affect health, it also suggests infrasound is worse indoors, so people cannot retreat into their homes for relief, he said.
Since infrasound can only be detected with special equipment, it has not been included in some wind studies that only researched the effects of audible sound, Devlin said.
In her comments, Louis Bartow, of West Island, also cited the McPherson study and additional research she found and urged everyone in town to read the reports and make up their own minds. But she also cautioned against discounting personal experiences, referring to the many individuals in Falmouth and other towns who have complained of health problems.
“A certain amount of skepticism is healthy, but to completely discount people’s experiences makes no sense at all,” she said.
Other wind turbine concerns raised were the project’s proximity to the bike path and Wood School and potential hazards like ice being flung from blades, turbine fires and blade failure.
Not all voices were against the project. School Committee member Brian Monroe said he was present to learn, and Fairhaven resident Ann Richards urged the board to hear both sides of the wind issue.
Late Monday night, the only decision the board had made was to seek permission to obtain a legal opinion from town counsel.
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