May 15, 2012

Abutters tie turbine shutdown to consensus building : Wind 1 exceeds noise thresholds

By CHRISTOPHER KAZARIAN, Falmouth Enterprise May 15, 2012

Building consensus over what to do with the town-owned wind turbines at the Wastewater Treatment Facility may be difficult if selectmen do not accede to abutters’ wishes to shut the machines down during the process.

That was apparent from a request made by Neil P. Andersen of Blacksmith Shop Road yesterday, on behalf of “over 40 households,” in a written letter to selectmen that demands the turbines be turned off if they want impacted residents to participate in the process of finding a solution to the issue that has plagued the town shortly after Wind 1 was turned on in March 2010. “We cannot participate in the CBI collaboration process until Wind 1 and Wind 2 are completely turned off, as voted in April’s Town Meeting. Our first priority has been and must always be for the health and welfare of our neighbors. First, do no harm,” he wrote.

Last night’s board meeting began with Selectmen Chairman Mary (Pat) Flynn notifying the public that Wind 1 will indeed be shut off, at least for the next 30 days, after the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection found that sound levels taken this past February and March had exceeded thresholds permitted by state law. In Massachusetts any 10-decibel increase above a particular location’s ambient noise level is considered a violation, which Ms. Flynn said occurred with Wind 1 between the hours of 1 AM and 4 AM.

Because the Department of Environmental Protection has no data on the sound levels of Wind 1 during the day, Ms. Flynn said, it will conduct additional tests over the next month while the machine is off. After the 30 days, Ms. Flynn said, Wind 1 will resume operation from 7 AM to 7 PM, the same hours that Wind 2 will be turned on. Selectmen voted to curtail the operation of the machines to those hours at their meeting last

Last night they began consideration of the composition of the committee that will be responsible for achieving consensus on what the town should do with its wind turbines. The board agreed with its consultant, Stacie N. Smith of the Consensus Building Institute, that the committee should include 15 members, of which five will be residents concerned with the adverse impacts on neighbors of the turbines. Another two residents will represent those concerned with Falmouth’s climate action protection plan to reduce the town’s use of fossil fuels. Two residents will represent the concerns over maintaining the fiscal benefits provided by the turbines, while another two will have empathy for all perspectives with the concern that the process will lead to an amicable outcome, which will reunite the town.

There will also be three representatives from town departments and one to two selectmen who would serve as liaisons, observing the process rather than participating in it.

Applications for the committee are available to the public at town hall and will be posted on the town’s website at Ms. Flynn hoped to have those applications returned soon to the board, so that by the board’s meeting next Monday evening it would have a committee in place and the consensus-building process could begin.

Selectmen debated for several minutes last night on how those representatives would be selected. Selectman Kevin E. Murphy suggested that the Falmouth Energy Committee could assist with choosing members interested in the town’s climate action protection plan and the Falmouth Finance Committee could assist with choosing those interested in maintaining the fiscal benefits of the turbines. He also recommended that Town Manager Julian M. Suso be responsible for choosing the representatives from town departments. The biggest difficulty, Mr. Murphy said, will be determining how the five-member contingent of abutters is chosen and the two residents who empathize with all perspectives.

Assistant Town Manager Heather B. Harper recommended the board give the responsibility for selecting committee members to the Consensus Building Institute. All that the board should vote, she said, was the composition of the committee and to allow the Consensus Building Institute to convene and schedule meetings of the committee.

After its deliberation, several residents called on selectmen to turn the turbines off as requested in Mr. Andersen’s letter, which was sent earlier that day. “You’ve got to turn them off, so we can all sit down calmly and well-rested to try and find a way out of this hole we’ve dug,” Todd A. Drummey of Blacksmith Shop Road, said.

While Mr. Murphy said he empathized with abutters, he stressed that in order for action to be taken, all parties have to come together and to an agreement regarding the turbines. As he referenced some of the inherent difficulties in coming to an immediate decision on the issue, namely the revenue bonds, Mr. Andersen interrupted him, yelling from the back of room, “Money, money, money!” “It is not about money,” Mr. Murphy said. “It is about following a process.”

J. Malcolm Donald of Ambleside Drive, questioned why the process was even necessary, pointing out that Senate President Therese M. Murray (D – Plymouth) has offered to help the town. “Why have the board of selectmen not picked up the phone or written a letter and say to Senate President Therese Murray, ‘We could use your help?’ ” “We don’t even know what to ask her for,” Mr. Murphy replied, explaining that the consensus-building process will provide more clarity to the town when it ultimately seeks the state’s help. He also pointed out that Ms. Murray will most likely be unable to assist the town in issues regarding the bonds and offsetting the lost revenue the turbine generates for Falmouth.

Ms. Flynn said town officials have sat down with the Cape’s entire delegation, including Ms. Murray, David T. Vieira (R-Falmouth) and Timothy Madden (D-Nantucket), but in order for them to assist Falmouth there has to be a solution as to what the town wants to do with the machines. “Wouldn’t it make sense to ask the Senate president to see what she can do?” Mr. Don- ald asked. “Why don’t you ask her what she could do? We would like to know what the Senate president can do.”

Selectman Brent V.W. Putnam agreed that the board should reach out to Ms. Murray and pose this question to her. At the same time, he said he was troubled that town officials had met with the Cape delegation, yet no minutes or details of such a meeting have been made available to the board or the public.

David R. Moriarty of Lower Road, West Falmouth, suggested that the board ask Ms. Murray if the state would be willing to assist the town financially for lost revenues if Falmouth were to shut down both turbines during the consensus-building process.

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