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Democratic process has been circumvented in Fairhaven

The rights of the citizens of Fairhaven have been denied under the guise of the Green Communities Act. This law requires that town officials only need to ask for a building permit.

The only way that town residents can find out about a building permit is to go to the Town Hall every few weeks and check to see what permits have been applied for. Town leaders now have a law that allows them to circumvent the democratic process. The central issue is that no notice was given to abutters and no public hearings held regarding the erecting of two 400-foot industrial wind turbines in the middle of a Fairhaven neighborhood.

In the past, the Board of Selectmen and the Conservation Commission would have been required to notify abutters and hold a public hearing. It is not enough to place a small add in the back pages of the Neighborhood News and expect that this suffices as notification to abutters and to town residents.

Town leaders through their actions have demonstrated a lack of transparency dealing with the turbine project. The turbines have been discussed in a number of executive sessions. Agendas of meetings are posted 48 hours in advance on the town’s bulletin board. Therefore, the only way to access this information is to go to the Town Hall 48 hours in advance every week. This places an unfair burden on the citizens. Furthermore, why would the residents of Fairhaven who had no idea what was going on in the first place be going to the Town Hall to check on the agenda? A building permit advertisement of the project occurred in the local free paper Neighborhood News. Again, this doesn’t pass the test of allowing for public input and public notification. Newspaper notices and articles on the project are no substitutes for public hearings and notification to abutters.

Those living in the affected area had no knowledge that the project was going forward. The parents at the nearby Wood Elementary School also knew nothing about the project. This is a source of contention, because a controversial townwide vote was taken to build a new school. No one knew at the time of the vote that the school to be built would be in the vicinity of two 400-foot wind turbines. Was there a deliberate attempt by town officials to keep this information from the public so that the vote for the new school would pass?

Some town committees were not informed that the project, after being held up in court four years ago, was now going forward. The project is now being developed by a new company formed under a limited liability corporation. The Finance Committee should have reviewed the amended lease and the new financial arrangement but they were never given the opportunity.

Information on a noise study that was done this year was never shared with the public. Why was this noise study not shared with the public? The study did not include infrasound, which is the noise from the turbines you don’t hear but which can make you ill. Any noise study dealing with wind turbines should include infrasound. We only learned of this study through a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

The rights of people to participate in the democratic process through town boards, notification to abutters and public hearings is a sacred right that has been denied to the citizens of Fairhaven. The Green Communities Act allows town leaders to take away the rights of the citizens of Massachusetts as it relates to these kinds of municipal projects. We believe that this law raises constitutional issues regarding free speech and due process. We have video documentation on the Board of Selectmen meeting providing further evidence to support our position. To view the video of the Board of Selectmen meeting, go to www.windwise.org.

Kenneth W. Pottel lives in Fairhaven.