FALMOUTH – The Falmouth Board of Selectmen unanimously voted on Feb. 4 to support a Town Meeting warrant article asking town voters to remove the town’s industrial-sized turbines at the town’s wastewater treatment facility. The selectmen hope to unify a divided community.
The vote happened in time for the issue to go before voters in the town’s April 9 special town election and then proceed to the town’s May general election.
Selectmen previously voted Jan. 30 to have Falmouth Town Manager Julian Suso’s office prepare the warrant article pertaining to the Wind 1 and Wind 2 turbines that have divided Falmouth residents and public officials since they were first erected about two and-a-half years ago.
On Feb. 4, selectmen approved final language for the warrant article. Upon a motion made by Selectwoman Mary Pat Flynn, selectmen also approved language to allow for the possible relocation of the turbines. There was little discussion on Feb. 4, however, as selectmen held a special meeting on Jan. 30 to decide the issue. The Feb. 4 vote was just a formality for what they decided to do on Jan. 30.
“Typically government and good leaders think of the greater good of all. As a thoughtful person, I put all things into account. I have a fiduciary responsibility to this community, and not just a knee-jerk responsibility to a community,” said Selectmen Chairman Kevin Murphy on Jan. 30.
“The most important thing for this community, moving forward, is the fact that this is fracturing our community,” he added. “What I hope to accomplish is to bring this community back together, bring us so we can live to fight another day. I will agree, and I will work, to be able to find a way to take down these turbines in a thoughtful process.”
Selectmen also voted to request the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center forgive the town’s debt for renewable energy credits, and to send a delegation of state officials to request help with their debt for the purchase of Wind 1.
According to analysis from Suso’s office, Murphy estimates removing the turbines would result in an average household tax increase of about $11 per year, unless they get financial assistance from the state. He urged selectmen to build consensus as they request specific help from the state. Flynn said she hopes to determine how much financial assistance the state will provide before voters are asked to decide the issue in May.
The selectmen’s decision follows completion of a 53-page report from the Wind Turbines Options Analysis Process (WTOP) and a Jan. 23 public meeting in which Falmouth residents spoke overwhelmingly in favor of removing the turbines rather than pursue other WTOP options. Other options included full operation of the turbines, or curtailed operating hours and having the town buy and re-sell the homes of impacted neighbors who say they have suffered from serious sleep disturbances, adverse health effects, and depreciating values of their homes.
At the Jan. 30 meeting, Falmouth Assistant Town Manager Heather Harper presented three “kitchen style” rough drafts of warrant articles to address the multitude of options before the selectmen and the fiscal impact of each for the town and its taxpayers. One warrant article would appropriate money for specific debt obligations. Another would appropriate money for mitigation factors, including the acquisition of real estate and potential installation of solar panels. Another would appropriate money to supplement the 2014 operating budget.
Harper estimates that it would cost the town about $400,000 to dismantle the turbines with a best-case scenario of $600,000 for resale value. After she reviewed the options, selectmen shared their thoughts before voting to remove the turbines.
Reading from a prepared statement on Jan. 30, Selectman David Braga said industrial-sized turbines don’t belong in residential neighborhoods.
“We have an issue that has gone on for too long and it has divided our town. I want to be very positive and move forward to rectify this issue,” Braga said. “I think it’s time that we start building trust with the residents of Falmouth over this issue.”
Selectman Doug Jones said he was inclined to agree with Braga but urged caution on how they proceed. Selectwoman Flynn suggested they further study the town manager’s analysis and perhaps come back for a follow-up discussion on another day, but then supported her fellow selectmen in voting to remove the turbines.
Murphy acknowledged on Jan. 30 that the town had a “calamity of errors” with the wind turbines. “I don’t think this is a depiction of wind power. I think we ended up with some bad machines,” he said. “I don’t think anyone intentionally did anything, thinking they were going to hurt or bother anybody.”
Jones said he was “very proud of the work we’ve done as a board to come to an agreement,” despite differences of opinion throughout the process.
Murphy thanked all the residents who participated in the open public comment period, which closed Jan. 28. “This has been a long process to get us to where we are right now,” he added. “We’re in the last lap here.”