November 8, 2012

Health board to consider legal options for turbine complaints

By Christine Legere, Globe Correspondent / November 7, 2012 |

Health officials in Kingston voted Monday to meet with the town’s attorney as soon as possible to discuss what they can legally do to help homeowners who say they are adversely affected by four local wind turbines.

Board of Health member Daniel Sapir said shutdown of the turbines during certain times “is on the table,” along with other potential measures. The board would begin by hiring its own expert to “analyze this thing and represent the health board’s interests,” he said.

Although most of Monday’s discussion focused on the Independence wind turbine, built on town-owned land by a private developer, three other nearby turbines owned by businesswoman Mary O’Donnell would be included in the board’s consideration, Sapir said.

But owners of the turbines say they are within their rights.

Kially Ruiz, co-owner of the Independence, said he does not intend to adjust his operation as long as it meets the state’s legal requirements. “Until there is proof of a problem, we won’t do anything,” Ruiz said following the health board’s vote.

O’Donnell expressed similar sentiments. “Everyone in the room Monday knows all my turbines are well within the limit for noise,” O’Donnell said after the session.

At the meeting, neighbors of the turbines asked the health board to shut down the machines at night and during times when they say light-flicker from whirling blades drives them from their homes, but chairman Joseph Casna said his panel has to consider legal ramifications. “We don’t want to do the wrong thing and have it thrown back and not accomplish anything,” he said.

Leland Road resident Doreen Reilly, speaking for her neighbors, said the lives of people who live near the turbines “have been turned upside down” since the Independence’s start-up in May.

“This has caused more anxiety than I have ever experienced,” Reilly said. “Our peace has been stolen from us. . . . We want our lives back.”

Reilly said family members cannot sleep on nights when the whooshing noise from the blades permeates her house. In recent weeks, she said, the shifting angle of the sun has introduced the added problem of flicker, the light-shadow effect created by spinning blades.

“It causes headaches,” Reilly said. “It’s in every room of my house, and it makes you want to flee your home.”

Reilly’s neighbor Daniel Alves had e-mailed the Board of Health recently with complaints of ringing ears, headaches, and an elevated heart rate. He told the board Monday that he has contacted a doctor regarding his son, who suffered from epilepsy. “I’m very concerned about the strobe-like effect of flicker,” Alves said.

Ruiz, who attended the meeting, called flicker “a mild annoyance” and a “transient condition” limited to sunny days in the fall and spring. “It’s not considered a health concern,” he said. “That’s not just my opinion. It’s the opinion of the experts.”

Ruiz said the turbine generates virtually no noise in nearby neighborhoods. He said the area has a train station, major highway, shopping mall, and waste-water treatment plant. “I think the neighbors are hearing a lot of things,” he said. “It’s just not the turbine.”

Sapir disagreed with Ruiz, saying he had witnessed the noise and flicker firsthand. “I went to the Reillys’ home at midnight, and I heard the whoosh,” he said. “You may say it’s not physically possible, but it’s happening. It’s real.”

Sapir said he experienced the flicker effect while watching a Patriots’ game at a friend’s house. “It was so annoying I couldn’t enjoy the game,” he said. “The poor dog was cowering in the bathroom.”

Local physician Piotr Lazowski, a Country Club Way resident who had lodged a written complaint over noise and flicker, pressed health officials Monday. “My question isn’t to Mr. Ruiz; my question is to our Board of Health,” Lazowski said. “What are you going to do?”

The Board of Health did take action last July, asking the Massachusetts Department of Health to conduct sound measurements on neighborhoods near the Independence turbine similar to those done in Falmouth and Fairhaven. State officials assigned the Kingston study to the Clean Energy Center, a quasi-public agency whose focus is on renewable energy development in the state.

The study has yet to move forward, and on Monday neighbors of O’Donnell’s turbines asked to have their area included in the testing.

Spokeswoman Catherine Williams said the Clean Energy Center should have a contractor on board by the end of this month and sound measurements will be taken once locations for study are selected. In a phone interview, she said results will not be ready until February “at the earliest.”

Residents concerned about the turbines filled the Board of Health’s meeting room and spilled into the hall Monday, and resident Tom Grifa told the board their numbers are even greater. “We are just a sample of all the people that are affected,” he said.

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