SHELBURNE – A lawyer for Shelburne residents who want to ban commercial windmills says their proposal could be viewed as a way to block a Mount Massaemet wind farm plan while the town considers less severe alternative regulations.
Lawyer Tom Lesser was speaking at a public hearing on behalf of residents who want town meeting to vote to ban all commercial windmills.
The commercial wind turbine ban doesn’t necessarily keep the Planning Board from spending a year to develop siting criteria for commercial wind power to be brought to annual town meeting a year from now, said Lesser at Tuesday’s hearing attended by about 75 people, mostly opponents of local commercial windmills.
“This is not the last word on wind turbines,” Lesser said.
But when asked by Planning Board Chairman V. Matt Marchese why the citizen-proposed ban doesn’t address “a host of questions” about wind turbines, and would allow home- or business-based windmills, Lesser replied, “It was a timing issue. We were hoping to put something forward in time for (annual) town meeting, and that you could take these important issues up later.”
“We would completely trust the ZBA, at this juncture, to look at small turbines,” added Michael Parry of Patten Road. He said the missing criteria for siting a small turbine for home or business use through the Zoning Board of Appeals’ special permit process is a “small loophole, compared to the gaping loophole for 300-foot to 400foot tall turbines.”
“We have 1½ pages on ‘What is a sign’ in Shelburne (zoning bylaws), but no definition of what a commercial electric generating facility is,” Parry added.
Earlier, Parry had said he and his wife have worked hard to build a sheep farm over the past 11 years, and that they chose Shelburne “for the same reasons a lot of folks are here.” Because the Planning Board’s proposed, year-long moratorium came too late to apply to the latest Mount Massaemet proposal, Parry said the residents’ article “creates the only way for Shelburne to say no, at this point.”
He said the group has spent hundreds of hours researching wind energy. “Our group strongly supports alternative energy sources that are responsibly sited,” Parry said, “but there are no safe setbacks, given the closeness of Mount Massaemet to a large number of homes.”
“The hillier the area, the more the sound propagates, said Raymond Hartman, also of Shelburne’s Patten District.
Hartman, an economics professor, also said the anticipated tax revenue increase from a commercial wind farm could be offset by decreases in property values, which may result in tax abatements.
Several residents spoke about their concerns that large-scale wind generators could result in health problems, in decreased property values, in bird and bat kills. Judith Truesdell said health risks of large scale turbines are more likely to affect senior citizens and children.
“There is a school within a mile of Mount Massaemet,” she said, referring to Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School. “It includes Buckland children, whose parents have no voice in this.”
But Larry Gould, one of the farmers whose land would be leased in the current Mount Massaemet Windfarm plan, took the wind ban proponents to task for an article that he said is only intended to block the Mount Massaemet plan. “You’re putting a lot of pressure on the ZBA,” he said.
“What we really wanted to do is to get commercial wind turbines out of the ZBA’s hands,” Lesser replied.
Gould continued: “The three principal landowners have paid a combined tax bill for 17 or 18 continuous generations.”
He called the commercial wind ban “a rush to judgment,” and said that, in the end, the wind turbines will “probably be done right for the town.”
In August, Shelburne landowner Frederick “Don” Field submitted a special permit application to site an eight-turbine wind facility, then withdrew the application “without prejudice” during a public hearing in November.
Soon after Tuesday’s public hearing for a bylaw change was posted, Field resubmitted a smaller scale wind farm proposal, with four wind turbines that would produce 6 megawatts of power.
“Last fall, two separate town boards asked to walk around the site,” said Gould. “Why didn’t your group of petitioners ask the landowners for a tour? None of you people ever set foot in our yard. You sit up there with your lawyer and you never sat with the landowners.”
The original plan called for turbines that would have been 480 feet tall with the blades; the new plan calls for 328-foot high turbines. Although the new wind turbine proposal wasn’t the direct subject of the public hearing, it was always in the background.
Phyllis Ormand, another Patten Road petitioner, asked why only one Planning Board member, Charles Washer, recused himself from the wind turbine issue when three of the Planning Board members – Washer, Beth Simmonds and Christopher Davenport – are related to families involved in leasing land for the wind farm. Town Counsel Donna MacNicol replied that the state Ethics Commission ruled that Washer had to recuse himself from participation, based on the corporation structure, but that the other two members did not. Simmonds and Davenport have read disclosures of “the appearance of conflict of interest” at previous Planning Board meetings.
Truesdell asked if she could have a copy of the state Ethics Commission’s finding but was told by MacNicol that it was not a public document.
On April 3, the Planning Board voted to seek a year-long moratorium and has just scheduled a public hearing for that moratorium warrant article on April 27 – just four days before annual town meeting. That public hearing will take place at the Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School, beginning at 7 p.m.
On Tuesday, Marchese said the Planning Board wants a moratorium on all wind proposals, so that the town would have criteria in place for both small and large-scale windmills.
“Is that not a discussion the whole town deserves to have?” he asked. “We want to hear the pros and the cons; we want to hear from the experts.”
“There is something to be said for a project of this magnitude to be allowed due process.” Tom Miner, a resident and conservation commissioner, detailed all the work done by the Planning Board over the past few months to secure grant money and expertise to help draft a new wind bylaw. He said the proposed ban “represents a conclusion developed by a small group to oppose wind. It could do a great deal of damage to a planning process that has worked very hard to develop an inclusive process – not an exclusionary process.”
Whit Sanford asked the Planning Board, in reviewing bylaws, “look at the community from the perspective of the farmers who may have the wind turbines on them … I think the farmers provide us with something very important; yet, they gain nothing from us, as a community. I think it would be nice if we, as a community could provide them with something to keep and preserve open land, to compensate the farmers for that valuable quality they provide to us.” John Walsh, a resident and an employee of Western Massachusetts Electric Co., recommended voting against the ban. “The argument we seem to be dealing with is having a wind turbine put up tomorrow,” said Walsh. “If there was commercial wind up there, we would have been inundated (with proposals) 10 years ago.”
“We need to take time to develop a bylaw that is more long-range and well thought out,” he said. “The noise (problems) will get better with technology improvements. By issuing a ban now, we are being short-sighted about electricity that will help the town.”
Legally, the Planning Board has up to 21 days from Tuesday’s hearing to issue a report either supporting or opposing the ban in time for town meeting, said MacNicol.
The Planning Board was to begin discussing the proposed ban in a meeting scheduled for Wednesday night.