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Fairhaven selectmen OK request for wind turbine legal opinion

FAIRHAVEN – Fairhaven selectmen gave the Board of Health approval Tuesday to seek a legal opinion on whether it can challenge the town’s two wind turbine projects.

Selectmen voted to authorize the three-member health board to seek legal counsel, pending the signature of Chairman Peter DeTerra, according to Selectman Mike Silvia. The decision allows the health board to ask Town Counsel Thomas Crotty if it can legally challenge the wind turbines as a health nuisance before the turbines are even operational.

Board of Health member Dolores Caton sought the approval after hearing health concerns related to wind turbines at the board’s Dec. 19 meeting. After the presentation, Caton proposed seeking legal counsel to see what the Board of Health could do.

“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.

During the discussion, DeTerra at first said he thought the board could only challenge an existing health nuisance but later agreed to support Caton’s suggestion.

The request for legal help is a sensitive one because the health board is inquiring about a project that is supported and managed by selectmen, and the legal opinion they’re seeking could provide them with a way to stop turbine construction. Nevertheless, Silvia said selectmen’s vote was unanimous and came with little to no discussion.

The requirement that DeTerra first sign the legal request is a procedural one, according to Silvia. The submitted form came from Caton and was not signed, he said. Procedure requires that board chairs sign all legal requests, a process that helps the town better manage its expenses.

DeTerra could not be reached for comment.

Although he’s pleased selectmen gave their approval, Little Bay resident Grant Menard, who opposes the turbines, said he’s concerned that every delay, like the need for DeTerra’s signature, makes it more likely the turbines will go up.

“I have a lot of concerns as to the timing of all this. I read on other projects, in other towns, that these things can go up as quickly as a couple of weeks,” he said. “I think they feel once they get built that people will stop fighting or stop caring.”

Construction work for the two approximately 400-foot wind turbines began in November with tree clearing and other preparatory steps at the Arsene Street site. Town officials have said the turbines are currently being shipped from China but have not given a specific arrival date.

The turbine project received Town Meeting approval in 2007 but was later stalled after a civil court challenge. When construction began in November, it surprised some residents who thought the project had been shelved.

Menard said he is hoping Fairhaven’s health board will follow the town of Bourne’s lead and create local regulations specifically for wind turbines. He’d especially like to see bigger setback requirements, he said.

But he understands that reviewing all of the information on wind projects will take time and that the Board of Health is just getting involved in the process.

“They’re just trying to educate themselves now,” Menard said. “It takes some time to review studies that large.”

Fairhaven resident Phil Washko said he isn’t for or against turbines but supports any move to get more information.

“Information is always a good thing,” said Washko. “If (the Board of Health) voted to recommend a halt to the project based on the need for more information, I’d have no problem with that.”