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Scituate Board of Health limits scope of wind-turbine study

Scituate will move forward with an analysis of the town’s wind turbine after the Board of Health decided on a narrow study of the turbine’s noise.

Despite pleas from residents who requested a broader analysis looking at the noise, shadow flicker, and overall health effects of the turbine, board members said they felt more comfortable sticking to the wind developer’s suggested study, which closely follows Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection noise restrictions.

“There are other turbines being tested, and the DEP is involved in reviewing the outcomes of those, and if we have a different outcome or study, I don’t know if there can be any comparisons with others at the state level,” said Michael Vazza, a board member.

Vazza said that the residents’ request to analyze sound emissions of the turbine in a more detailed way was an “invented” method of looking at turbine impacts. Because the broader analysis had no basis, the methodology and results could be challenged, he said.

The decision was disappointing to residents, who said they were not surprised by the outcome.

“This is an expected outcome…there is no surprise here that the Board of Health would simply embrace the strategy espoused by the wind developer,” Thompson said.

The main conflict stems from the perceived role of the Board of Health. Though board members have been looking to review whether the turbine is in compliance with its special permit, residents feel the board should be looking at overall health impacts of the turbine.

“The role of the Board of Health is not to determine compliance with MassDEP … [it is] to review and take direct action on issues of public health, that’s how we’ve developed our proposed scope of work and embraced [the Board of Health’s] mandate in development of that scope of work,” Thompson said.

The board, however, declined a broader sound analysis of the machine, and yet not mandated a study looking at the shadow flicker effects.

Residents also requested a survey be done to measure health impacts to nearby residents. That, too, went unanswered.

According to Gordon Dean, owner of the turbine, the MassDEP guidelines are the ones that should be followed to determine whether the turbine is safe.

“One [study] is determining compliance with state standards. The other wants to collect information extraneous to compliance, which has no known health effects. And the flicker study, you can check, that’s already done. Check if it’s occurring at the times and for the duration we said it would. And a health survey… we have no ability to design or manage [that],” Dean said.

Dean went on to say that the turbine owners have suggested participation in a Massachusetts CEC study that will look at the broader health impacts of the turbine.

No agreement has yet been made about participation in that study.

Board of Health members will start to look as possible engineers to do the work. Already, both sides have given a list of candidates.

In the background is a citizens’ petition to be voted on at Town Meeting in April, which would allocate money for a flicker study and to conduct a health survey.

Board member Frank Lynch suggested asking for a cost breakout in the RFP process for those subsequent items, which could be funded at a later time.

Although there is potential to undertake a broader turbine study, Thompson said the community group may have to go in another direction to receive relief from the turbine.

“We have to determine if we want to continue in a role with the Steering Committee with an acoustical study that we know what it’s going to look like on the other side, and what some of our other options are,” Thompson said. “Because there is still a group negatively impacted by this turbine.”