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Current turbines plague bylaw hearing

FAIRHAVEN – Planning Board Chairman Wayne Hayward made it clear from the start Tuesday night that he only wanted to hear constructive comments on the board’s draft turbine bylaw.

“This is your chance to give feedback on the proposed bylaw,” Hayward reminded the 25 or so residents in attendance. “It is not a chance for us to receive complaints about the wind turbines already in existence.”

The proposed bylaw would halve the height of turbines allowed in town as well as quadruple the distance turbines must be from the nearest residents.

Past meetings of other boards on the subject have seen some high emotion. To make sure there were no problems this time, two police officers were stationed in the Town Hall Banquet Room. Their presence was one of 14 measures taken by the Planning Board in an effort to keep attendees of the highly anticipated hearing on topic. The session mostly was, although Hayward had to remind some residents to speak to the specifics of the bylaw.

Zachary Aubut, who said he lives two-thirds of a mile from the two turbines at the wastewater treatment plant, took exception to Hayward’s opening comments.

“Health complaints about the current turbines are an important part of the discussion when you are talking about how close these things should be to people,” he said.

“I don’t think anyone in this room opposes green energy, but you have to realize the impact of turbines on health is not something that is shared by the community at large,” he said. “You don’t realize what you are asking abutters to live with.”

A few members of WindWise, a group that opposes the town’s two turbines, told the board they thought the rewriting of the town’s current bylaw proves the town’s two turbines cause adverse health effects.

Hayward distanced himself from that argument, saying he “would disagree with the idea that this hearing is proof of anything.”

“Those two turbines are not the worst-case scenario,” he said. “If a developer walks in the door today, we are required by our current bylaw to allow him to build a turbine up to 515 feet tall as long as it is 515 feet away from residents. There would be a lot more complaints than there are now.”

Ann Richard, the sole speaker to advocate for more lenient regulations, took issue with Hayward’s statement that the proposed bylaw would be among the strictest in the state.

“I don’t think that’s something our town should be proud of,” she said.

Following her comment, roughly 15 audience members began coughing and continued to do so throughout the rest of her testimony.

Speaking with an audience largely made up of WindWise members who preferred stricter regulations, Hayward reminded those present that if the draft bylaw does not pass Town Meeting this year, a similar turbine bylaw revision could not be brought up again until 2015.

“That will leave us very vulnerable,” he said.

WindWise member Dawn Devlin said she wished there was a provision in the bylaw requiring turbine developers to buy the homes of people whose doctors confirmed they had adverse health effects from turbines.

But, she said, she would reluctantly support the bylaw at Town Meeting because “something has to be done.”

“I’d like to see some other provisions built in, but at least this protects a few more people,” she said.