A Feb. 28 meeting with Squantum residents was supposed to be a forum for residents to express their concerns about the proposed Moon Island wind turbine. But when Mayor Thomas Koch of Quincy withdrew his support for the turbine five days before the event, the gathering turned into a celebration.
Meeting at the Robert I. Nickerson American Legion Post, dozens of turbine opponents came out to thank Koch for his decision, which squashed plans for the 400-foot-tall, estimated $4.3 million structure.
The turbine, a joint venture between the cities of Quincy and Boston, had been in discussion for over two years. Its demise disappointed Boston officials and supporters of renewable energy, who said that opponents’ fears were unfounded. But it also illustrated how grass-roots politicking can get things done in Quincy.
Although Koch had expressed support for the turbine over the past two years, vehement objections from neighbors in recent weeks were enough to make Koch rethink the proposal.
Residents packed the small Quincy City Council chambers during a Planning Board public hearing on Feb. 8 to showcase their objections. Opponents also sent City Hall a letter dated Feb. 22 outlining their views, with 187 signatures attached. The next day, Koch announced that he would no longer support the project.
Responding to citizens’ concerns was Koch’s top priority, mayoral spokesman Christopher Walker said.
“While there was some support [for the turbine], there wasn’t enough, and the opposition to it was clearly building around the neighborhood,’’ he said. “With these types of projects, you need to have a level of community support that everyone is comfortable with, and clearly that just wasn’t there.’’
Walker admitted that the mayor’s office could have done things differently, but would not elaborate on exactly what.
Yet according to Ward 6 Councilor Brian McNamee, a failure of planning enabled residents to garner so much opposition.
“I think what you had here was an ill-conceived roll-out of a proposal to build a commercial wind turbine,’’ McNamee said. “Many of the elements were not sequenced properly.’’
There was never a public discussion of cost, of how that cost would be split, and what the potential benefits would be to Quincy residents, McNamee said.
McNamee said he doesn’t doubt that Koch and Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston had answered those questions at the beginning.
“You don’t go down this road without playing it out all the way,’’ said McNamee, but added that residents were given little information to address their concerns.
“I told everybody during this process, the only way to stop it is politically. . . . What you had to do is say, ‘If you go forward with this, then you will pay a price in terms of the support you receive from us, the electoral support,’ ’’ McNamee said. “Mayor Koch wouldn’t be foolish enough to say he would do it at any cost.’’
Owned by the city of Boston, yet accessible only from Quincy, Moon Island has long been proclaimed the perfect location for a turbine, partly because of how windy the area is, and partly because of its distance from residents.
Even with the turbine’s estimated annual output of 1.5 to 2 megawatts of electricity – which Quincy and Boston would have split – the distance wasn’t far enough for those who would have been closest.
“For me, personally, my main issue was the health issue,’’ said Faye Anderson, a Bayside Road resident who helped spearhead the opposition. Her house is less than a mile from the site.
“The wind turbine syndrome – people from all over the world who live near these are reporting the same symptoms. . . . Basically, they feel seasick, though they are not moving. . . . Science is trying to say we can’t say if this is true definitely or not. They say it’s inconclusive, but that means it could be true,’’ she said.
Anderson also cited concerns about flight patterns possibly being altered, and home values decreasing because of the new view.
“I had people tell me they were going to move. . . . It was a quality-of-life issue,’’ Anderson said.
Melissa Beesley, a Bay Street resident, agreed that Moon Island was not the right location.
“Health, property values, and the cost to Quincy [were my main concerns]. The cost especially was a nonissue addressed by the application. They were very ambiguous and very non-transparent. There wasn’t anything in writing that they could guarantee,’’ Beesley said.
Supporters of the turbine, meanwhile, were not swayed by those arguments.
“I feel disenfranchised that I wasn’t allowed to speak at the last public hearing, and that the next one was canceled,’’ said Larry Chretien, a Quincy resident and member of the Mass Energy Consumers Alliance.
According to Chretien, getting out the facts would have allayed opponents’ fears, ranging from concerns about flight patterns, which wouldn’t change, to harmful effects on health, which he says don’t exist.
“I think it was premature [for Koch] to take that position, and I think that the project could have been presented differently all along,’’ Chretien said.
Boston officials also felt the process ended too soon.
“We’re disappointed because we had been working cooperatively with the city of Quincy and continue to feel that this project was a great opportunity to showcase our cities’ commitment to renewable energy,’’ said Jim Hunt, the Boston mayor’s chief of environmental and energy services. “We had hoped to have a full hearing before the Planning Board, and had been working for two years for that opportunity.’’
On Wednesday, Hunt sent a letter to Quincy’s Planning Board officially canceling the project, and the venture was formally withdrawn.
Nevertheless, Menino said, his city will continue to support renewable energy.
“They speak to the values of our city,’’ he said in a statement. “I’m proud when I see our turbines along the waterfront and the solar panels on our rooftops. This is the Boston I want to leave to my grandchildren.’’
Although the city to the north is still lamenting the lost opportunity, the relationship between the two communities should not splinter, representatives said.
“It’s not going to harm our relationship with the city of Quincy,’’ said John Guilfoil, Menino’s deputy press secretary. “We’re still going to do business and coexist; we’re just disappointed that a clean-energy proposal like this could not move forward.’’
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