FALMOUTH – Morality over money: That was the overriding theme in what was a rather civil Jan. 23 meeting held by the Falmouth Board of Selectmen, in which they heard public comments on the town’s two wind turbines.
The vast majority of speakers urged selectmen to remove the turbines and replace them with solar panels. One spoke in favor of full operation of the turbines, and a couple suggested curtailing the operating hours. Several speakers remained neutral.
Eric Sockol, of 819 West Falmouth Highway, was the evening’s first speaker to use the catchphrase, “Do the right thing,” which seemed to be the evening’s recurring theme.
“I own a home 1000 feet from Wind 2,” he said, before recommending selectmen remove and replace the turbines with solar panels.
“Government has a responsibility to protect their citizens. … Doing the right thing is not always the easiest and not always the least expensive, but it is what we expect and hope our elected officials will strive for,” he added.
The Jan. 23 meeting comes after a Jan. 18 joint meeting between selectmen and the Wind Turbines Options Analysis Process (WTOP), in which the study group presented options to selectmen on how the town should proceed with its two turbines at the Falmouth Wastewater Treatment Facility.
And it comes before selectmen meet next week to discuss the options amongst themselves and to prepare a warrant article by Feb. 4, which would be voted on at a special town meeting on April 9 and then go before voters in the town election in May. Selectmen have set Tuesday, Jan. 29 at 5:30 p.m. as a tentative date for their discussion.
“You now have the perfect opportunity to rectify the mismanagement of the past. It’s not only the right thing to do. It’s the responsible thing to do,” John Ford, of 372 Blacksmith Shop Road, told the selectmen. “I request you join your fellow residents and neighbors and remove the turbines and replace them with [solar panels.] It is the only humane choice you have.”
Diane Funfar, of 27 Ridgeview Drive and a WTOP participant, said the selectmen have one of two options: Remove people from their homes or remove the turbines. “Buying properties would be very expensive for the town, and since the majority of people do not want to leave their homes, this is not an option that would unify our community. I ask you to do the right thing for our neighbors and our community,” she said.
It was more than one hour into the meeting when a neutral speaker urged the selectmen to not forget economics. “I sympathize with the people and some of the pains they go through, but don’t discount economics. We have to have a plan,” said George Hamson, of 158 Old Main Road, who is also a Falmouth Town Meeting member from precinct 5.
Yet some property owners remain concerned about their own finances because they say the turbines have resulted in depreciating values of their homes. “I bust my ass every day. That’s my retirement. How much did you take away from me when you put those up? I’m sick of it,” said Colin Murphy, of 291 Blacksmith Road.
Several speakers said the selectmen have a primary responsibility to care for the health and well being of all its citizens. Those directly impacted by the turbines brought up the longstanding complaints of sleep deprivation, nausea and anxiety – among other health disturbances.
“I believe it is a crime to put the money before the health of even one citizen, and it’s an even greater crime for you not to spend time in that citizen’s house to experience what is really happening … before you make any decision,” said Robert Sagerman, of 80 Deer Pond Road.
“This is a health issue. This isn’t a financial issue. Every citizen in Falmouth deserves the same rights as everyone else. There is no question what the right thing to do here is,” added David Moriarty, of 93 Lowen Road, and a precinct 6 Falmouth Town Meeting member.
A few speakers recommended curtailed operating hours for the turbines. One was Gerry Potamis, a precinct 2 Town Meeting member and town employee. “The solution is partial operation. It is the single choice that is fair to the town as a whole,” he said.
But other speakers suggested the industrial sized turbines must run full-time to work effectively or should be shut down, and they recommended shutting them down.
Only one speaker favored full operation of the turbines, saying any other option would place an unfair tax burden on the residents by making the town take a financial loss after investing in the turbines.
Richard Latimer, a member of the Falmouth Planning Board, suggested the town take properties by eminent domain, if necessary. “Is this harsh? Yes it is, but it would be equally harsh on the voters and taxpayers as a whole to spend money to take a loss,” he said.
Selectmen will accept written comments on the turbines until 4:30 p.m. Jan. 28. They can be submitted by email with subject “Public Comments” to email@example.com, or they can be dropped off at the Town Manager’s office at 59 Town Hall Square.
Falmouth Town Manager Julian Suso told The Bulletin he found the Jan. 23 meeting to be a productive one.
“I thought it afforded the board of selectmen an opportunity to receive very important public input. Time is so short and that information is very important for the board to receive,” he said. “The decorum and presentations in the entire proceedings were handled quite well and in a respectful way, and that’s a tribute to the board and the members of the community who attended and participated in a very respectful and courteous way on a very challenging issue in our community.”
Kevin Murphy, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, told The Bulletin he appreciates all the public comments. “These comments will help the Board of Selectmen to make a decision as we head down the road, and that road is happening real soon. We need to make a decision [by Feb. 4],” Murphy said.
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