The legality of Kingston’s wind turbines stands in question today as KingstonJournal.com uncovers evidence to suggest that all four of Kingston’s industrial-sized wind turbines may be out of compliance with existing town bylaws.
Kingston’s Wind Overlay District Bylaw, which was approved by town meeting in April 2007, states wind-turbine applicants have “the burden of proving that [shadow flicker] does not have significant adverse impact on neighboring or adjacent uses.”
Yesterday afternoon, Kingston Town Planner Tom Bott told the Journal that he has “never seen a flicker study for the [Mary] O’Donnell turbines.”
Mary O’Donnell’s property along Marion Drive was added to Kingston’s Wind-Overlay District in 2008 at town meeting.
The Journal also asked Bott for a copy of the flicker study pertaining to the Kingston Wind Independence (KWI) Turbine.
“It’s on our Web site,” Bott said.
No document on the Kingston Planning Department’s Web site makes any mention of possible shadow-flicker impacts stemming from the KWI Turbine specific to homes in Kingston.
Similarly, feasibility studies from the Kingston Green Energy Committee in 2008 do not mention flicker and only discuss a “range of visibility,” encompassing several towns within sight of the KWI Turbine’s physical structure but far beyond the much more localized impacts of shadow-flicker.
This week, Leland Road resident Sean Reilly told the Board of Health (BOH) that he requested a flicker study from Bott. “We received portions of discussions about flicker studies…as far as we know, there was no flicker study,” Reilly said to the BOH on Monday.
After Reilly’s short address, longtime BOH-member Bill Watson spoke up. “If there is nothing in writing then this comes down to us to write a regulation on the hours of operation and flicker…which could be no flicker at all.”
Besides the town’s wind overlay bylaw, only one other document attached on the Kingston Planning Department Web site, the “Wind Turbine Health Impact Study,” even discusses the general phenomena of shadow flicker.
The health-impact study, conducted by a panel of health professionals and professors from prestigious local universities, does not mention Kingston. One part of the study reads, “In terms of safe distances to reduce shadow flicker, these are often project-specific because it depends on whether there are residences or roadways present and what the geographic layout is.”
Like with the O’Donnell turbines, no site specific shadow-flicker study exists for the KWI Turbine atop the town’s capped landfill.
Bott told the Journal that he and the Planning Board “felt comfortable” with the discussion about flicker upon approval of the plans for Kingston’s skyscraping turbines.
Since the 2012 construction of Kingston’s four industrial-sized turbines, emotional citizen complaints about shadow flicker have taken center stage at BOH meetings as some residents call for the turbines to be shut down during flicker hours.
This week, at Monday night’s BOH meeting, Mark Wheeler of Prospect Street appeared visibly overcome with grief when describing seeing his 18-month old daughter blink her eyes excessively while looking out the window at the KWI Turbine during a period of shadow flicker at the Wheeler residence.
“Clearly there’s an issue with shadow flicker,” Wheeler said to the BOH. “The power of observation is the only thing required to know that it’s real.”
Wheeler told the BOH on Monday that he believed “immediate mitigation” was necessary in response to complaints about shadow flicker from Kingston’s turbines.
Leland Road resident Dan Alves spoke to the BOH on Monday night and claimed that the shadow flicker in his home sometimes flashes 45 times per minute. Alves, who has an epileptic son, expressed concern that the number of flashes per minute from shadow flicker in his home was approaching a level that could cause seizures.
Alves lives within 900 feet of the 404-foot tall KWI Turbine.
Scientific studies have suggested that exposure to 60+ shadow-flicker flashes per minute from a wind turbine could cause seizures.
“The Planning Board wouldn’t have approved this if they thought there was going to be a problem,” Bott told the Journal yesterday afternoon.
Bott estimated the number of flashes per minute emanating from the KWI Turbine during shadow flicker at “17 on average.”
The “Wind Turbine Health Impact Study” used as reference on the Kingston Planning Department’s “Wind Turbine Project” Web page writes that “scientific evidence suggests shadow flicker does not pose a risk for eliciting seizures.”
The same study later reads, “there is limited evidence primarily from a German government-sponsored study that prolonged shadow flicker (more than 30 minutes) can result in transient stress-related effects on cognition and autonomic nervous system functioning.”
Bott told the Journal he believed Kingston homes were not exposed to shadow flicker for more than 30 hours annually.
Another section of Kingston’s Wind Overlay District Bylaw, entitled “Financial Surety,” outlines requirements for turbine applicants “to cover the cost of removal in the event the town must the [turbine].” The section (18.104.22.168.) directs turbine applicants to “provide a form of surety at a date certain…of an amount and form determined by the Site Plan Approval Authority.”
Authority to approve site plans in Kingston resides with the Planning Board.
Bott, the head of Kingston’s Planning Department, told the Journal yesterday that he was unaware whether or not a surety or bond existed for the O’Donnell turbines, which are privately maintained by O’Donnell’s Grove Street-based company No Fossil Fuels.
The Kingston Wind Independence Turbine is co-managed by Kially Ruiz and sits on land leased from the Town of Kingston.
The Kingston Planning Board originally approved five industrial-sized turbines, the one atop the capped landfill and four on O’Donnell’s Marion Drive property, on June 28, 2010.
However, only three O’Donnell turbines were developed.
Paul Armstrong, Kingston’s Building Inspector, received the site plans for O’Donnell’s three turbines a month before the Planning Board approved the turbines in June 2010. Yesterday, Armstrong told the Journal that he was “comfortable” with what he saw at the turbines. “You should understand, my job is to look at the structural stuff,” Armstrong said.
“Our principal role is staffing the Planning Board and managing the process for the board’s review of site plans,” Bott was quoted when describing his office’s role in town government to reporter Kathryn Gallerani for a WickedLocal:Kingston feature last October.
Bott, who has served as Kingston Town Planner for nearly 15 years, told the Journal, “if the turbines exceed the existing thresholds, I don’t think the [BOH] has any choice but to mitigate.”
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