A Falmouth Board of Health survey examining the health effects of wind turbines is on hold pending a decision by the Falmouth Board of Selectmen on the future of the town owned turbines at the wastewater treatment facility.
Selectmen will meet tomorrow in Falmouth Town Hall at 5:30 PM to discuss and vote on the turbines sited close to residences. If necessary, selectmen have scheduled a second meeting on Thursday at 5:30 PM to continue the discussions and vote.
The vote by selectmen is in response to the eight-month long Falmouth Wind Turbine Options Process, which concluded that the town should pursue one of three options: run the turbines as much as possible and compensate homeowners; curtail the turbines during certain hours of the day; and remove the turbines and possibly install photovoltaic solar panels. The majority of residents who weighed in on the report in a public hearing last week favored removing the turbines.
In a separate process, Falmouth Board of Health members have heard testimony about the health effects of turbines from residents for more than two years. The survey is the latest attempt to quantify complaints about the three largest wind turbines in Falmouth—the two town-owned turbines, and the privately owned Notus Clean Energy Turbine in Falmouth Technology Park.
Falmouth Board of Health has the power to enact regulations that could affect both privately and publicly owned wind turbines if the board decides that the turbines are causing negative health impacts. Board members created the survey about the sleep patterns of people who live near the turbines, and sent it to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to get feedback.
The department of public health previously stated they would help the Falmouth board with the survey, but this time the response was different, board members said. “They did not want to participate in our survey in any fashion whatsoever,” said board member John B. Waterbury. “So we are basically on our own.” Board member George Heufelder said the state department had offered to help interpret the data from the survey and asked Dr. Waterbury if that offer was still available. “My interpretation was that they wanted to wash their hands of any involvement,” Dr. Waterbury said.
Board member Jared V. Goldstone read an e-mail from Massachusetts Department of Public Health employee Robert S. Knorr, who asked that any reference to the state agency be removed from the cover letter and survey. Mr. Knorr wrote that it is not clear what the board hopes to learn from the survey that it has not already learned through other questionnaires and public hearings about the turbines. He also said that the survey may be invalid because it includes questions from different surveys.
Chairman Gail A. Harkness said the goal is to identify how many residents have health and sleep problems, and if that number is higher than other areas. The survey was to be sent to 270 residences within 3,000 feet of the three turbines. Dr. Goldstone said the goal is to see if a significant number of people report that their sleep was impacted by the wind turbines.
Daniel H. Webb, owner of the Notus Clean Energy turbine, said that the town-owned turbines have not been running at night for eight months and questioned how the board will take that into account. “I think Dan has a valid point that ideally we would have done this last year,” said Dr. Goldstone, when the town turbines were run- ning 24 hours a day. Unlike the town-owned turbines that have been turned off from 7 PM to 7 AM since May, the Notus turbine runs 24 hours a day. The town turbines are closer to residences, within a quarter-mile of some homes, but there are also complaints about the Notus turbine.
One resident, Suzanne C. Hobart of Blacksmith Shop Road, has said she has moved from her home. Two other residents, John J. Ford and Todd A. Drummey, who participated in the Falmouth Wind Turbine Options Process, live within a half-mile of the Notus turbine, but farther than a half-mile from the town turbines.
Board member Stephen D. Rafferty said that the selectmen’s decision will have a bearing on the board of health survey and advised the board to put the survey on hold. Mr. Heufelder said he had hoped for cooperation with the state, but it was not forthcoming. “We’re getting dumped at the rehearsal dinner and not at the altar,” Mr. Rafferty said. Mr. Heufelder asked the board what the survey results would have to be to get a response from the board. Board members did not discuss a specific number or percentage of homes that might be affected. “Even when we have the re- sults in front of us, it’s going to be a nightmare to try to figure out,” said Dr. Waterbury.
The board voted to table its discussion about the wind turbine survey until the next meeting on February 11 after selectmen have made their decision about the town-owned turbines.
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