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Falmouth rejects turbine shutdown

FALMOUTH – Representatives at Falmouth’s final night of fall town meeting quashed a pair of measures that would have shut down the town’s two wind turbines and provided residents with an early warning system when contaminants are suspected to be in the water supply.

Precinct 6 town meeting member Marc Finneran brought forth nonbinding Article 36, which would require the town to immediately notify residents when the water department finds a tainted water sample. Under current regulations, the town must immediately notify the state Department of Environment Protection when a test sample shows possible contamination, but only requires public notification after contamination is confirmed.

“The basic premise of this (article) is: Do you want to make your own health decisions, or do you want to leave them up to something else?” Finneran said.

The issue of water contamination still looms heavy over the heads of Falmouth officials. In August, the DEP ordered Falmouth to pay $89,000 in fines as a penalty for the former water department chief’s failure to notify officials about E. coli in the municipal drinking water in June 2010. The contaminated water spurred a weeklong boil water order.

William Chapman, then water superintendent, was suspended in the wake of the state order and resigned this past January.

Falmouth Department of Public Works Director Raymond Jack told town meeting members that water samples from Long Pond, which provides two-thirds of the town’s drinking water, often show contamination in individual samples, but then come up clean upon further testing.

“This article is asking you to go to the extreme, by immediate and widespread notification,” Jack said. He said that widespread notification would result in unnecessary business closures across town.

Finneran and other town meeting members noted that much of Falmouth’s population is comprised of elderly people with compromised immune systems. But Kevin Murphy, chairman of the board of selectmen, advised against those people drinking the water, regardless.

“There’s no secret in this town that (the drinking water is) less than pristine,” Murphy said of the groundwater supply from Long Pond, which is treated, rather than filtered or purified. “The water that you hold up has things floating inside it.”

The article failed 101-64.

Meanwhile, the anti-wind turbine article also drew comments from opponents and fans of the green energy source.

Diane Funfar, who lives about 1,600 feet from both 1.65-megawatt municipal turbines, was the first to speak in favor of the article.

“The quality of life during the day is so poor that many people leave their houses,” Funfar said. Selectmen previously ordered the turbines shut off between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. each day.

Taking exception to comments that equated alleged negative health effects caused by the turbines to torture and human rights violations, planning board member Richard Latimer spoke out against the rhetoric.

“When you get to that level of hyperbole, you get to questioning how much of this is hysteria and how much is really true?” Latimer said.

The measure failed by vote of 101-73.

Falmouth’s next town meeting is scheduled for April 8.