Select Board chairman says save turbine bylaw setback comments for Planning Board; Health board has received 350 complaints from 49 households
FAIRHAVEN – Several members of Windwise sat waiting for a discussion of the Planning Board’s revised wind turbine bylaw last Thursday, but Select Board Chairman Brian K. Bowcock said they would have to wait until the Planning Board holds a public hearing.
Mr. Bowcock resisted efforts by Selectman Robert Espindola to make comments or raise questions about the proposed bylaw. That led to a brief but harsh exchange between the two selectmen.
The bylaw was listed on the agenda under the heading “Discussion,” for items the board generally talks about. It was number one on the list as, “Review Planning Board draft of the Wind Energy bylaw rewrite.”
Mr. Bowcock said selectmen could submit their comments and questions in writing to the Planning Board, which, he said, will be holding a public hearing in January.
“Wasn’t the purpose to review the document and comment?” Mr. Espindola asked of the agenda item.
“That’s not what our agenda is set up for,” Mr. Bowcock said.
Mr. Espindola complained that the Board of Health chairman, Peter DeTerra, hadn’t responded to questions he had that are related to health issues related to wind turbines. He said, “As professional courtesy, I would have preferred feedback from Peter DeTerra, who is here tonight.”
Mr. DeTerra didn’t respond, but Mr. Bowcock called Mr. Espindola’s comments “off base.”
Mr. Bowcock said there was no one from the Planning Board at the selectmen’s meeting to answer questions and, “It’s not for us to have a discussion with the Board of Health.” He added that there was only one member of the health board in attendance that evening of the three-member elected board.
Mr. Espindola persisted, however, asking if Mr. Bowcock would agree to having a joint meeting with the Board of Health. He said the health board has received 350 complaints from 49 different households. “There’s really a lot going on here,” the selectman said.
“How do I get the chairman of the Board of Health (to meet) with this board?” Mr. Espindola asked. “We have not resolved any of the issues or complaints that have come in.” Mr. Espindola said he submitted questions in writing to Mr. DeTerra and he “hasn’t answered.”
Calling Mr. Espindola’s comments “beyond the agenda,” Mr. Bowcock said, “We’re not going to get into that discussion… We’re not going down that road.”
Resident Curt Devlin, who has been a harsh critic of the two industrial wind turbines on town-owned land, then spoke from the audience, saying, “I can’t see why” the selectmen couldn’t have a “joint discussion” with the health board.
When Mr. Bowcock briefly banged the gavel, Mr. Devlin commented about banging the “gavel again” to keep people from talking.
Mr. Devlin said the wind turbines are “more than a planning issue. It’s a health issue.” He said he was “fascinated” to hear that the selectmen can’t meet with the Board of Health “I don’t understand that,” Mr. Devlin said.
“I’m glad to see you so fascinated,” Mr. Bowcock said, before telling Mr. Devlin to “go to the Planning Board hearing.”
Selectman Charles Murphy Sr. didn’t talk during the exchanges. Earlier, he said he would submit his comments to the Planning Board since that was what Mr. Bowcock had told them to do.
As the selectmen’s meeting drew to a close, however, he publicly asked Mr. DeTerra to have answers to their questions available at the Planning Board hearing.
Mr. Espindola expressed frustration several weeks ago about Mr. Bowcock’s not allowing Windwise, which opposes the turbines, a slot on the agenda. He asked Mr. Bowcock then to consider allowing Windwise members time to speak at a selectmen’s meeting. At that meeting, Mr. Bowcock said they should wait until after the Department of Environmental Protection completes its noise study. Mr. Bowcock said the DEP had to conduct the noise study under optimal wind conditions for it to be scientific, which the DEP said occur in the colder months, not summer.
Mr. Espindola said, however, that six months had already passed since the study began and that meanwhile residents’ complaints were mounting.
After the meeting, Mr. Espindola said the latest draft of the wind turbine bylaw calls for a maximum tip height of 265 feet and a minimum distance of four times the tip height to the nearest residential property, or 1,060 feet. He said that would be for a utility scale wind turbine.
Mr. Espindola said a “vast majority” of the complaints he’s seen in documents provided to selectmen are “all outside that distance.”
Mr. Espindola said one of his questions was whether the bylaw adequately addresses the variety of concerns residents have expressed in their complaints. He also questioned the provision that allows the Planning Board to waive the bylaw stipulations by special permit.
Mr. Espindola said 15 towns on the Cape have introduced changes to bylaws to limit turbines to six decibels above the average sound in that area, which is below the state’s 10 decibel threshold.
The proposed bylaw for Fairhaven also has a 660-kilowatt limit. Mr. Espindola said, “You can’t guarantee that a smaller turbine isn’t going to produce more sound” especially after it ages and needs maintenance.
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