FAIRHAVEN – School Committee members said last week they won’t give in to demands from Windwise and Fair Action Fairhaven to support halting the construction of two industrial sized wind turbines about 2,000 feet from the proposed new elementary school.
In the public comment period of the Jan. 11 meeting. Windwise member Kenneth Pottel said, “As education leaders, you have a responsibility to take a position.” He said some School Committee members “are supporting candidates who are supporting this project.”
Ground breaking is expected to be in June for the new elementary school on Sconticut Neck Road. Among the potential ill effects of wind turbines cited by opponents are infrasound and the flicker effect.
Windwise has joined with a new group, Fair Action Fairhaven, in opposing the project. Fair Action Fairhaven is seeking more open government. Its effort grew out of frustrations Save Our Neighborhood Schools members said they experienced with town officials when trying to get Wood and Rogers schools rehabilitated instead of combined.
Some of these members have attended earlier School Committee meetings.
Speaking last week, Chris Andersen of Fair Action Fairhaven asked why Dr. Robert N. Baldwin was the one taking the minutes. He repeatedly asked Chairman Pamela Kuechler to read from the minutes covering public comments at the previous meeting. Ms. Kuechler refused to read the minutes; she said they would be posted online the next day.
Mr. Andersen also asked committee members if they’d known about the wind turbines when voting on the new elementary school. The town’s executive secretary, Jeffrey W. Osuch, and Selectman Brian K. Bowcock both served on the New School Building Committee. Both were also involved in bringing the wind turbines to town land off Arsene Street.
Fair Action and Windwise have argued that voters might not have voted for the Wood site if they’d known about the wind turbines.
Ms. Kuechler, who was on both committees, said she learned about the turbines the same time the general public did, after the townwide vote last fall on the new school. The combined elementary won by 149 votes.
Other School Committee members also said they did not know about the turbines until the general public did. David Gonsalves said, “There was no talk at the School Committee or School Building Committee meetings about wind turbines.”
Mr. Andersen also wanted to know if the town had contacted the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) about the wind turbines. The MSBA is funding more than 60 percent of the cost of a new school.
“What is their comment on this?” Mr. Andersen asked.
Ms. Kuechler said committee members could address that question at the end of the meeting if they wanted to. School Committee members usually hold off on making comments until the end of the meetings. Mr. Andersen’s question about the MSBA wasn’t answered later, but School Committee members stressed later that they wanted more time to review all the conflicting information.
By the time the committee’s time for comments came, most of the public comment speakers had left.
Vice Chairman Louis Kruger said, “I’m disappointed that group here did not stay until the end.” He added, “I still have my concerns” on the wind turbines. “I’ve listened to the pro’s and con’s today.”
Mr. Kruger he found it “disturbing” that some of the Windwise and Fair Action Fairhaven speakers treated members of the School Committee like “bad people” because they “won’t jump to a conclusion.” He said, “We’re all here for the same thing.”
As for not giving a response right away, he said, “It means I’m taking my time and making sure we get all the information we need before making a decision.”
Ms. Kuechler agreed, saying, “We’ve received a lot of information. It takes time to sift through all this.”
Ms. Kuechler said she wanted to wait until the town holds a forum on Jan. 24 and for Windwise to hold one on Jan. 26. She said she is also waiting for a report from the state Department of Public Health. Earlier this week, Windwise said it will cancel its forum if the town gives its members time to speak on Jan. 24.
Mr. Gonsalves said, “I’ve looked at every piece of information that’s been sent to me…There’s a lot of conflicting information…We’re trying to be receptive to everything.”
He added, “Why does Mr. Andersen demand answers within a 24-hour period?”
Mr. Gonsalves also responded to a woman who had earlier asked, “Do you have any plans for the special needs population?” He said they did not have enough knowledge at that point to develop any such plans. “Why are we experts on this project? …You don’t like us. You don’t trust us. That’s okay because we are still working on behalf of you. You asked us to look into it. I know I am. It just takes time.”
School Committee member Bernard Roderick said some of the “opponents are trying to curry favor with the school department and at the same time they come here and demonize us.”
And School Committee member Stasia Powers said, “There’s lot’s of conflicting information. We’re not experts on this.”
She added, “I take it personally when people try to bully us into doing things … when we don’t have all the information.” In the end, she said, “We’ll do what’s best for the community and the children.”
Some who spoke from the audience expressed support for the wind turbines. Diane Hahn, who has an autistic child and another with Tourette’s syndrome, said she can’t find any studies that show harmful effects on such children.
Ann Richard, who has a master’s in environmental science, said she’d spoken to school officials in Hull and, “They have said there are no problems” with the wind turbines there.
Ms. Richard said she’s also talked to people at Mass Maritime where, “The facilities maintenance manager says there have been no health effects from them on campus.” She said she she’s received the same positive response from other schools where there are wind turbines in Rhode Island.
“Twenty nine different communities in Massachusetts have wind turbines or are pursuing wind turbines,” Ms. Richard said. “I personally think this is a great project.”
She added, “I’m not going to stand by anymore and let (only) one side be heard.” Calling the turbines a great educational opportunity for students locally, she said, “At Hull, they are proud of it and their kids are proud of it.”
Earlier in the meeting, Louise Barteau said anecdotal studies of people who live near wind turbines should not be discounted. In one case, she said, a boy couldn’t sleep and showed signs of aggression until his family moved away from a wind turbine.
Ms. Barteau cited scientific studies, too, which she said she was providing the School Committee.
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