LENOX – Consensus on whether the town should pursue studies of a potential municipal wind-turbine project atop Lenox Mountain continues to elude the Wind Energy Research Panel, despite a rapidly approaching informal Jan. 15 deadline for a report to the Select Board.
“Rather than trying to agree, would it make more sense for two reports, one from each side?” asked Selectman Kenneth Fowler, moderator for the panel of three pro and three con members, plus two alternates.
But several panelists at the most recent session voiced a preference for multiple sections combined in a single, “more powerful” report that “respects the work we’ve put in.”
According to mapping research presented to the group, there are 50 to 60 homes within one mile of the proposed site.
Searching for potential areas of agreement, project opponent Christopher Magee suggested that a consensus could be reached to advocate further studies “if we’re going to go forward” while supporter Dr. Michael Kaplan declared that the one key issue requiring agreement by both sides is: “Should the town proceed with further study and planning on this project?”
Panelists differed on whether the Jan. 15 deadline should be extended.
“I feel like there’s a lot of going round and round,” said Eric Vincelette, who joined the panel as a supporter. “The ultimate question is, do we want to move forward and explore more studies, and how are they going
to be paid for.”
As a member of the town’s Finance Committee, Vincelette said his priority was “searching for other ways to raise revenue or save money for the town. At this point, I’m pretty clear that there’s not enough information, even as a ‘pro’ person, to say yes, this project should go forward. I’m not sure we’re going to get any more information than we already have.”
Vincelette asserted that “we’re just kind of beating a dead horse, frankly. We’ve reached a conclusion that we don’t feel now’s the right time to move forward with this project with the information thus far presented.”
During the Dec. 15 meeting, the group discussed a letter from Mass Audubon, which owns the Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary adjacent to the possible wind-turbine site, calling for extensive studies to investigate the impacts on soil, vegetation, the watershed, birds, bats, Jefferson salamanders (a state-listed rare species), intermittent streams and vernal pools.
Sanctuary Director René Laubach explained that the studies would require a full spring and summer season. “We have to know more about the details of the location before we can determine whether it is in the interest of the environment, or not,” said Laubach. “We are not against every site, or pro every site, we take it one location at a time and study it thoroughly.”
Kaplan, a family practitioner in Lee, elaborated on his comments at a previous meeting that turbines conceivably could pose a health issue for residents within a mile of the installation, based on anecdotal reports.
He told panelists at the most recent meeting that “I don’t believe personally that there is a likelihood of health effects, but I couldn’t advise people because there’s no consensus. I personally wouldn’t have a problem, with what I know now.”
The physician had surprised his colleagues previously by indicating he could not endorse a turbine project if a patient living near the site asked for his advice on potential health effects of noise and vibration. He emphasized that “we still don’t know” if there are health problems at any turbines in Massachusetts.
Magee, an MIT engineer, renewed his call for rigorous acoustic tests on the impact of low-frequency vibration rather than “meaningless” studies confined to audible sound. But other panelists insisted that purely acoustic studies would have value.
The panel members are to regroup in Town Hall on Thursday, Dec. 29, at 6 p.m.
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