Marco Oldhafer, who spent a month with a crane hundreds of feet tall dominating the view from the upstairs deck on his house, has now been able to rediscover the unimpeded vista he so loved, of the sunset over the marshes of Raritan Bay. And it hasn’t been restored a moment too soon.
The crane and the marred seascape constitute the latest evidence of an ongoing dispute between the Bayshore Regional Sewerage Authority and the town of Union Beach over plans to build a 380-foot wind turbine within proximity of many houses in this Monmouth Beach coastal community.
On Aug. 10, a state appeals court overturned a lower-court ruling that last year found the sewerage authority within its rights to build the turbine to cut energy costs. The appellate ruling ordered the authority to return to Union Beach’s governing bodies to seek a zoning clarification, which would either allow the turbine construction to go forward or require a variance. In the meantime, the court commanded the authority to dismantle the towering crane, which went up in July in preparation for the final installation of the turbine.
It was soon after the erection of the crane that Vince Camarda decided to sell his four-bedroom Dock Street house just 1,100 feet from the site of the proposed wind turbine. Mr. Camarda bought the house in 2006 for $287,000, and spent an additional $25,000 buying and clearing a lot behind his house to extend his yard. Over the next 18 months, he said, he spent another $120,000 rebuilding the house. The property is now on the market for $399,000, but Mr. Camarda says he hasn’t received a single call from an interested buyer.
“People know this turbine is coming, and nobody wants to be here,” he said. “My house is only on the market because of this. I don’t want to move. I love this town.”
With home values a major reason for their concern, more than 80 percent of Mr. Camarda’s fellow residents in this town of 6,245 oppose the turbine, according to Bill Heller, a resident and the creator of the Web site noturbine.com, which documents the history of the Union Beach battle as well as controversies surrounding similar energy-producing systems around the world.
“I would have given it 50-50 before, but now I think we can win this one,” Mr. Heller said. “And if we do, I think the towns that are involved are going to look to recover for their ratepayers some of the money that’s been spent so far on this thing.”
The investment so far has been close to $5 million, according to Robert C. Fischer, the executive director of the Bayshore Regional Sewerage Authority. With the wind turbine parts in storage in Newark, the authority has asked the appellate court to reconsider its decision and is gearing up for another round with the town’s zoning and planning boards. At the heart of the dispute is a 2008 zoning update that reclassified most of the property near the site of the proposed turbine as residential, although until then it had been an industrial zone.
“It has to be addressed,” Mr. Fischer said. “We can’t remain a 24-acre waste treatment plant in a residential zone. This is bigger than the wind turbine. We’re in jeopardy of violating our environmental permits with anything we need to do down the line.”
The goal in proposing the wind turbine back in 2009 was to reduce expenses at the sewage treatment plant, which serves eight communities in northern Monmouth and Middlesex Counties and treats 16 million gallons of wastewater each day. Last year’s operating costs of $800,000 could be cut in half by the energy provided from the wind turbine, Mr. Fischer said, noting that the savings could be passed along to homeowners.
But residents served by the sewerage authority say such savings would be negligible, and are not worth having to live with 120-foot blades constantly rotating above their heads.
Though Mr. Oldhafer has no plans to sell his house, he is concerned about his investment in Union Beach. In 1998 he paid $94,000 for a bungalow at the end of Bay Avenue, across from Raritan Bay. Three years ago he spent $240,000 replacing the bungalow with a 2,400-square-foot house, the upstairs rooms of which provide a 180-degree view of the bay. If the turbine was installed, Mr. Oldhafer said, his house – 1,200 feet from the site – would lose significant value. He estimated his sewer bill would go down by only $18 a year.
“They have 23,000 customers and claim they’ll save $400,000 from the turbine,” he said. “If you divide it, I’m going to save about $18 a year, but I’m going to lose about $50,000 value on my house. I’d rather just pay the bill if that’s O.K.”
Mr. Fischer said the Bayshore authority had hired an appraiser to evaluate the impact on housing prices in neighborhoods near the Jersey Atlantic Wind Farm, five turbines installed in Atlantic City in 2005. Measuring property values before, during and after the installation, the appraisal found “no difference at all,” he said.
The wind turbine has become the most discussed issue in Union Beach. Those living near the proposed site say they worry about the psychological impact of high-frequency noise and strobe effects of constantly whirring blades. Mr. Camarda said he was afraid his 3-year-old son, Charles, who likes to help him in the garden, would be scared by the noise of the turbine. Expressing the views of many here, Stuart Lieberman, the lawyer representing Union Beach against the sewerage authority, said the authority had overstepped its bounds and should now pack it in.
“Since when did a sewerage plant get to risk everyone’s happiness in a community?” he asked. “You’re not supposed to see them, or smell them. They ought to be in the background, doing what they do, which is processing human waste, and they need to get back to that.”
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