FAIRHAVEN – Fire Chief Timothy Francis stopped a Board of Health meeting Monday after an overflow crowd couldn’t fit into the small office used for the meeting.
The agenda item that drew about 25 residents was “Review of Selectman Robert Espindola’s questions regarding Fairhaven Planning Board DRAFT ‘Wind Energy Facilities By-Law.”
Yet all discussion was closed off immediately by Board of Health Chairman Peter DeTerra and Jeannine Lopes. Both said commenting on the bylaw was inappropriate because it did not follow the “protocol.” They said the protocol was to defer making comments until after the Planning Board holds a public hearing.
Chief Francis arrived about 45 minutes after the meeting started after receiving complaints. By that point, most of the crowd had moved to the hallway because the board was moving on to other agenda items.
Many of those who attended are associated with Windwise and some are involved in a lawsuit against the turbines. Their attorney, Ann DeNardis, attended the meeting.
Windwise member Kenneth Pottel expressed frustration over the choice of the small room to hold a meeting that was likely to attract many residents.
Soon after the meeting began, health board member Barbara Acksen made a motion for them to hold a public hearing on the more than 350 complaints they’ve received so far. But her motion wasn’t seconded. The complaints come from more than 50 households.
Mr. DeTerra said they should wait for the results of the noise study being conducted by the state Department of Environmental Protection. He said they need scientific data on which to base any actions.
Mr. DeTerra said the selectmen could shut the turbines down and that the DEP could, but the Board of Health doesn’t have that authority.
That raised the ire of several in the audience who said if they can shut down a restaurant causing a health risk, why not the turbines?
Health agent Patricia Fowle said, however, that there are state laws like a sanitary code or housing regulations they can use to shut places down. This is not the case with wind turbines, Ms. Fowle said.
Ms. Fowle said they’d received “heartfelt complaints. It’s awful, but there are no standards to apply.” She said they need science to be able to apply standards. “It’s much easier to enforce regulations that are existing.”
Ms. Acksen said she’d consulted an attorney from the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards and learned, “It’s very difficult to shut turbines down, but we can regulate them. We can shut them off at certain times.”
Mr. DeTerra said he’d also talked to the attorney and learned, “You have to have scientific data to turn them down.”
Dawn Devlin, a local Realtor who’s been an outspoken critic of the turbines, said, “Many people in this room are people who have been sending complaints.” She said more than 360 complaints have been sent to the Board of Health “and there’s been no discussion.” Ms. Devlin said the board members were elected to “protect the people of Fairhaven” and yet they haven’t taken any action.
Kenneth Pottel of Windwise said, “A lot of these families are suffering and you’re just turning a deaf ear.”
Mr. DeTerra said they would hold a public hearing after the DEP finishes its noise study.
Asked about the nature of the complaints after the meeting, Ms. Acksen said, “Their complaints are very personal and very sad.” She said they can’t release a summary of the complaints because while they have accumulated data, they haven’t compiled it in any scientific way yet. She said they couldn’t provide information yet on how many complaints involved noise, sleeplessness or other issues related to wind turbines. They have charted geographic areas, the times of the complaints and other data, she said
Ms. Acksen said the 10 decibel limit for how much the turbines can increase the noise levels in an area is based on gravel pits. She said 15 towns on the Cape have passed a six decibel threshold.
Also after the meeting, Mr. Pottel said he knows several people who have been to doctors. “Some are going to specialists, neurologists. A public hearing might be good to get this information out.”
Carolyn Young of Peirce’s Point said, “My father hasn’t slept in months, since the leaves have come down.” She described him as someone who wouldn’t normally speak out or come to meetings.
“I’m not sleeping as well,” Ms. Young added. “I put head phones on. It’s just horrible.”
She said during periods when the turbines are shut off, there is a noticeable difference. “My mother will come home at 11:30 or 12 p.m. (from her night shift at the hospital) and stand outside because they’re off and it just feels better.”
Last week, the Board of Selectmen also refused to allow public comments on the Planning Board’s bylaw despite having it under an agenda category called Discussion. Selectman Robert Espindola expressed frustration at that meeting over having all comments closed off by Select Board Chairman Brian K. Bowcock.
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