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Board resists last-minute changes to turbine bylaw

Falmouth Planning Board this week finished up its work on its proposed wind turbine bylaw, which will appear on the November Annual Town Meeting warrant with no further changes. The board spent more than an hour Tuesday reviewing the by-law in light of comments received at last week’s public hearing, and ultimately the board decided to endorse the bylaw as is and not incorporate any of the amendments suggested by last week’s speakers.

The board rejected several attempts to make more substantial last-minute changes, most of them pitched by board member Richard K. Latimer. Mr. Latimer again revisited an argument he has made several times over the eight-month-long process of creating the bylaw, that turbines should not be defined as accessory use structures based on how much power is consumed on-site.

Mr. Latimer argued that by restricting turbines as accessory use structures, it discourages turbine development, particularly for municipal use. “Why would we want to discourage extra wind?” he said, arguing that other provisions in the bylaw would protect the public from inappropriate turbine development.

Patricia H. Kerfoot reiterated her stance that restricting turbines as accessory use structures in service to a primary structure, a home or a business, the planning board would essentially be asked to approve for-profit power plants. “This bylaw is written around the idea that turbines will be an accessory use. If we change that out of here, we might as well throw the bylaw out,” she said.

Mr. Latimer moved to change the wording of the bylaw to allow the town to develop wind turbines expressly for profit-generating purposes, but no one seconded his motion. Two other motions presented by Mr. Latimer to redefine accessory use also died without receiving a second.

As it will appear on the warrant, Article 3 would update existing town bylaws on the siting and review process for wind turbines. Under the proposed bylaw, the planning board would review and issue special permits for turbines with a generation capacity of more than 300 watts and less than 250 kilowatts; turbines below 300 watts would not need a permit, and those over 250 kilowatts would not be allowed in town.

The bylaw would require an applicant to provide sound modeling data to determine the necessary sound setback, and sound generation is capped at eight decibels above the area’s ambient background noise levels. That standard was adopted to provide planners with added flexibility on the noise modeling requirement. The state’s threshold on allowable turbine noise is 10 dB above the area’s ambient background noise, but noise models sometimes underestimate the noise potential for a given site, so the board added a two dB buffer to account for such variations. The bylaw defines the sound quality to be measured as “A- weighted” decibels, the common standard for measuring industrial and environmental noise. A-weighted decibels are used to determine the potential impact on a person’s hearing but does not take into account low-frequency sound, which some believe to be the main culprit in causing so-called “wind turbine syndrome.”

In accordance with state standards, all abutters living within 300 feet of a proposed wind turbine would receive notifications via certified mail and have “party-in-interest” standing, meaning that those residents have a stronger legal standing, particularly when it comes to potential litigation; the standard is intended to avoid frivolous lawsuits by defining who has a substantive, direct, and personal legal stake in a given matter. Residents living between 300 and 1,500 feet of a site would be notified by regular mail and have no party-in-interest standing.

The full bylaw may be viewed online at www.falmouthmass.us/ windzone/wind%20systems%20by law%20article_8.22.12.pdf.