In a headline above the fold on Monday, Dec. 17, The Standard-Times touted a “Tougher turbine bylaw proposed” for Fairhaven. This new proposal, concocted by Fairhaven Planning Director Bill Roth and Planning Board Chairman Wayne Hayward in an almost complete vacuum of information, is only slightly more restrictive than the current “anything goes” bylaw. It is far from the toughest, but it is certainly one of the stupidest. That is saying something in Fairhaven, known for superlative performance in the stupid category. It’s a sure sign that the selectmen will approve it and the Town Meeting will ratify it. If you think this is harsh, take a look at the existing bylaw.
Far from offering residents any real protection, this latest proposal will have the likely outcome of inviting smaller turbines, in larger numbers, that can still be legally sited in very close proximity to residents. Current zoning bylaws in Fairhaven permit citing turbines in every type of zone as a so-called municipal project. There is currently no legal restriction that would prevent private property owners from citing an industrial wind turbine in the midst of any neighborhood in town. Nothing in the new proposal will change this cozy little arrangement appreciably.
According to The Standard-Times article, the most recent proposal “gives the Planning Board discretion to make exceptions for turbines producing more than 600 kilowatts and closer to residences than four times blade height.” This little plum should be seen for exactly what it is, a sly little power grab by Wayne Hayward. He would like nothing better than holding court while wind developers and residents come, hat in hand, to plead for some consideration. Earlier this year, Hayward could be heard whining about the budgets cuts imposed on the Planning Board. This “discretion” would give him a bargaining chip in future budget debates.
For all the good it has done, Fairhaven would be better off simply abolishing the Planning Board. Then we could use the budget surplus to hire a professional town planner, instead of making due with the planner we have now.
There is a mountain of unassailable scientific evidence that infrasound and low-frequency noise from turbines sited near residences cause serious illness. Long-term exposure to this dangerous form of sound energy causes very serious and often irreversible health consequences such as heart damage, cancer and acute neurological deterioration. As much as 70 percent of those exposed for 10 years or more will suffer from at least some serious adverse health effects.
If town planning officials really wanted to protect people from such dangers, they would carefully restrict turbines based upon the emission of low frequency sound, as measured inside residential homes where it is at its worst. When I tried to point this out to Bill Roth at one of the earlier meetings, he said “I don’t want to hear anything about decibels.” Of course, not! That would force him to grapple with the real issue. If safe sound constraints (in decibels) were put in place, it would offer people real protection and put an end to turbines in Fairhaven. No turbines emit safe levels of infrasound.
One of the existing 400-foot turbines is just 1,600 feet from one family home. That’s four times the height – exactly what Bill Roth and Wayne Hayward are proposing. At that distance, one member of the family was so badly affected that he moved out to escape the torment. The turbines are literally tearing this family apart. Add another turbine refugee to the list.
Recently, the minister of Energy in the U.K., John Hayes, announced a complete moratorium on any further onshore wind farms, anywhere in Britain. That is what a tougher policy on turbines looks like. This comes in a country desperate for energy independence in the face of waning domestic fossil fuel supplies, where wind has been the centerpiece of energy policy for two decades. The British journalist from the Daily Mail, Christopher Booker, observed: “For years our politicians continued to fall for this racket, as they ruthlessly bent the planning rules to ensure that nothing stood in the way of the turbines.” Sound familiar?
Wind developers will be delighted with this new proposal thanks to Hayward and Roth; but if you think it will protect the health and safety of residents, or their property value; don’t kid yourself. In fairness, several of the Planning Board members have raised these concerns only to be routinely ignored by Bill Hayward. Rene Fleurent, for example, has repeatedly expressed great concern about health and safety issues posed by turbines; but these concerns fall on deaf ears. Once the Board of Selectmen approves it, your public comments will fall on deaf ears, too. That is Hayward’s approach to planning: ready, fire, aim.
Curt Devlin lives in Fairhaven.