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Board of Health upset by turbine developer letter

FAIRHAVEN – Board of Health members are angry over a letter they received from Fairhaven Wind developer Sumul Shah in place of a plan to address residents’ complaints about noise and shadow “flicker” from the two wind turbines off Arsene Street.

Shah was ordered in June to present options for alleviating complaints about the turbines to the board at its meeting last week. Instead, Shah’s letter analyzed the nature of the turbine complaints and questioned their legitimacy.

In the letter, Shah wrote that 42 percent of the 132 complaints had been lodged by plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the town seeking to dismantle the turbines. An additional 22.5 percent of the complaints were lodged by others who had publicly voiced their opposition to the turbines before they were operational.

“This makes one question the validity of many complaints or the rationale for why people are complaining,” the letter reads.

Further, Shah advised the board that “it is your responsibility to separate legitimate complaints, which could be related to a violation of local or state standards, from complaints which are merely a back-door attempt to implement a tiny minority opinion.”

Board of Health member Barbara Acksen said she was appalled by Shah’s letter, saying “We were not at all pleased with the report.”

“He should just be responding to the data and not casting aspersions on people who complain,” she said. “You can’t just say ‘Well, these people didn’t like the turbines before so their complaints don’t matter.'”

Members of Windwise, a group opposed to the turbines, said they were hurt by the report.

“It was making insulting innuendos about the people living here. That is not appropriate,” member Ken Pottel said. “To demonize people who are legitimately being hurt and making it seem like they are not important is just wrong.”

Shah said he “did not mean to suggest that there is an evil plot out to get us.”

“I’m just suggesting that people become hypersensitive to the turbines, and almost any noise you hear at night you attribute to the turbine,” he said. “Even if it is the turbine, you’re listening for it so you notice it more. For other people, it just blends into the environment.”

The letter also warned the Board of Health against “imposing its own mitigation plan,” saying such action would violate the town’s lease with Fairhaven Wind.

“It’s not in his best interest to make a mitigation plan and he basically dared us to do anything about that,” Acksen said.

Shah wrote he would be unable to provide a mitigation plan until he saw the results of a sound study conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection on the turbines.

“We can’t fix something we don’t know is actually a problem yet,” he said in an interview. “We haven’t seen or done any sound studies. There is no reason to think we are out of compliance at the moment.”

Chairman of the Board of Health Peter DeTerra said he was not sure what the board’s next steps would be but that he was disappointed that Shah did not provide the board with a plan as was asked.

“This was not a mitigation plan; this was a response. A mitigation plan should tell us what you are planning to do about the noise and the flicker,” he said. “I was expecting much more from him.”