The Falmouth Wind Turbine Option Analysis Group met for the second time Wednesday, and unlike the first meeting, a small group of the neighbors of the town-owned wind turbines on Blacksmith Shop Road attended the beginning of the meeting, read a statement and then left shortly after.
Group members Judith Fenwick and Jeffrey W. Oppenheim met with the neighbors on Tuesday night and tried to persuade them to participate in the process. As a result, Kathryn L. Elder, Neil P. Andersen and John J. Ford of Blacksmith Shop Road and Diane C. Funfar of Ridgeview Drive sat in the audience at the beginning of the meeting. After an introduction by Ms. Fenwick, Ms. Elder read a 2 1/2- page statement to the group about about why they are not participating in the process. Facilitator Stacie N. Smith of the Consensus Building Institute in Cambridge asked Ms. Elder if she would like to sit at the table with the rest of the group, but she elected to sit in a chair against the wall next to Selectman Douglas H. Jones. “Unfortunately, we do not feel that we can join you at this time, and I’m here to try, as best I can, to explain why,” she said. “The main reason is that we continue to be harmed. And we can’t come to the table if all the options for restoring our basic rights are not on the table.”
The biggest obstacle has been a lack of direct communication between the neighbors and town hall, she said. “Our efforts to engage selectmen have repeatedly failed,” she said. She recounted a recent history of the wind turbine problems from the neighbors’ perspective, including two Falmouth Town Meeting articles asking to shut down the turbines. The first article was preempted by a vote of selectmen to shut down the turbines, she said. The article at April Town Meeting passed, but was followed by another article asking selectmen to leave the turbines running at full speed, which also passed. Ms. Elder wrote that the only indication that selectmen intended to deal with the problem of the turbines came in a statement of principles released shortly before April Town Meeting.
The statement of principles requires the plan be responsive to the negative impacts expressed by residents, but also states that the operating plan cannot result in a budgetary deficit in Fiscal Year 2013. “These principles are mutually exclusive,” she said. The neighbors responded with their own statement of principles. “In order to move forward in good faith, the turbines must be turned off immediately and kept off until consensus is reached,” she said. “The neighbors’ health and well-being are non-negotiable. The renewable energy goals of the town must not be achieved at the expense of a minority. The financial burden for correcting the problem must be shared by all responsible parties.” Selectmen responded to the neighbors’ statement of principles by turning off the turbines from 7 PM to 7 AM every night.
In May, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection reported that Wind 1 exceeded noise standards, and selectmen shut down Wind 1 for 30 days. Wind 2 is currently running between 7 AM and 7 PM, after briefly being shut down because of an issue with one of its blades. But shutting down the turbines only at night does not solve the problem, Ms. Elder said. “We cannot perceive running them during the day as a decision made in the spirit of cooperation,” she said. “For some, the effects are even more damaging during the day than they are at night. Some sleep during the day, others spend most of their waking time at home and are being driven away from them,” she said.
“The selectmen’s statement of principles makes it clear they have no intention of adopting a plan that will negatively affect the town’s budget,” she said. “There is no legitimacy to solving, let alone acknowledging the problem within this framework.” “Again, the reason we can’t come to the table is because many important options aren’t on the table,” she said. “And I can’t sit down and discuss this rationally and intelligently if my family and my neighbors are being hurt in the process.”
First to respond was group member David Bailey, town director of assessing, who said his understanding is that no options are off-limits to the group. “My understanding is that everything is on the table,” he said. Mr. Jones also said there were no limits to the options that can be considered by the group, although the recommendations of the group will ultimately be decided by selectmen.
Group member Anastasia K. Karplus said her understand- ing is that the neighbors’ statement of principles are a reaction to the selectmen’s statement of principles. Ms. Elder said that there has been no communication with the selectmen, which is an obstacle for the neighbors.
Group member Karen M. Cardeira asked if Ms. Elder would share some of the options that she would like on the table. “If options aren’t there, then I can’t consider them,” she said. Ms. Elder said that she could not participate in the process while the turbines were still running, because it means they would be complicit in harming the neighbors. That was a difficult decision that has left her feeling depressed, she said.
Ms. Smith reiterated that all options are on the table, but Ms. Elder and the other neighbors left the meeting at that point. After they left, the other members of the group tried to clarify some of the points Ms. Elder made. Ms. Karplus said she was very surprised that the neighbors thought the group was bound by the decisions made by the selectmen. “I almost think there was a misunderstanding,” she said. Mr. Oppenheim said in his discussion with neighbors, communication was a major issue. “I think there is a lot of misunderstanding that has been building up over two years,” he said. “This process is not seen as separate from all the things that have gone on over in town hall.” Mr. Oppenheim said his impression is that the wind turbine neighbors do not feel safe in the process. “Personally, I’m just starting to understand the real depth of how injured they feel.” The five seats that were left open for the adversely affected neighbors remain open, but Ms. Smith said she did receive an application for one of the spots.
The applicant, James R. Luyten of Fire Tower Road, has not experienced any negative health effects, but does feel the value of his property has gone down and is therefore adversely affected economically, she said. Dr. Luyten has a doctorate in chemical physics from Harvard University and was the acting director and president of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution from 2006 until 2008. He is currently the director of the Red Sea Research Center at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia.
Dr. Luyten is not available to meet on Wednesday, so the group agreed to meet next on Tuesday, June 12, at 6:30 PM, and again on Tuesday, June 19, at 6:30 PM, so he could attend.
Ms. Smith said she contacted the negatively affected neighbors and asked if Dr. Luyten would be able to represent their concerns. The neighbors were very clear, she said, that Dr. Luyten does not represent their concerns about the health effects of the wind turbines.
With the remaining group members at the table, they began a brainstorming process about possible options for solving the problems caused by Wind 1 and Wind 2, the 262-foot-tall Vestas 1.65-megawatt turbines sited within a quarter-mile of residents. The first idea suggested was to move or remove the turbines from their current location, an option that neighbors have called for publicly. Mr. Bailey said if that is the only option the neighbors will consider, the process will be difficult. “What would be a successful solution other than the removal of the turbines?” he asked. “If that is the only reasonable solution, then I think that limits our decision.”
Other ideas were to curtail the operations of the turbines, propose mitigation for the neighbors, either by physically altering their homes or giving neighbors financial compensation, and buying neighbors’ homes and reselling them. Another option was to replace the turbines with solar arrays or smaller wind turbines.
At the next meeting, the group plans to review the existing reports from consultants related to the wind turbines and go through all the options suggested. Group members would also like more information about how much it would cost to turn the turbines completely off for the summer, or longer. They also requested more information about how property values are affected by wind turbines. Mr. Bailey said there have been a number of national studies about this problem, but they are essentially worthless. He said he would put together some information about property values in Falmouth.
Group member Robert Shea, the town’s GIS coordinator, will attend the next meeting with a map of complaints and neigh- bors’ proximity to the wind turbines.
Ms. Smith said she will reach out to the Falmouth Board of Health Chairman Gail A. Hark-ness to ask her to speak about that board’s issues Selectman Mary (Pat) Flynn said the selectmen would like to complete the decision-making process about the wind turbines by May 2013. There will likely be a Town Meeting vote and a question on the ballot because the solution will undoubtedly involve money, she said.
Ms. Smith noted that Selectmen Flynn and Jones are no longer seated at the table with the other members of the group. She said she spoke with Town Counsel Frank K. Duffy Jr., who told her that selectmen cannot sit on other committees. The group could be considered a subcommittee of the board of selectmen, she explained, and would then be bound by Open Meeting Law and public records requests. The meeting was videotaped by Geoff A. Wyman, an employee of Falmouth Community Television. Mr. Wyman said that the town has a contract with FCTV to tape all the meetings of selectmen, Falmouth Conservation Commission, and Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals. The contract also calls for an additional 30 meetings to be videotaped at the discretion of the town, but FCTV has already taped 24 meetings to this point, with another six months to go. Mr. Wyman said the town will easily exceed that number if all the meetings of the Falmouth Water Quality Management Committee are videotaped and the meetings of the wind turbine advisory group are to be videotaped.