For more than an hour, town meeting voters heard pleas from neighbors of Scituate’s wind turbine. The consensus from the speakers: the turbine sounds like a jet plane that never lands, and it’s ruining their health.
But in the end, the testimonials weren’t enough to sway town meeting to back an effort to shut down the 390-foot-tall turbine. Residents Wednesday night voted 132-118 to oppose the non-binding resolution, submitted as a citizen petition.
Most of the town employees, board and committee members in attendance at town meeting voted to reject the measure.
“This is not the time and place to send the incorrect message that we are going to make a decision in the absence of data,” said Selectman Richard Murray, who lives near the turbine but says it doesn’t bother him.
Wednesday was the second night of Scituate’s annual town meeting, which in total lasted about nine hours.
If town meeting had voted in favor of the turbine resolution, Scituate’s elected leaders would not have been forced to shut down the turbine. However, it would have sent a strong message about the town’s appetite for the turbine, which became operational in March 2012.
Murray said the town is taking all the steps necessary to ensure the turbine is safe. For starters, he said, the board of health has ordered a study to see if the turbine complies with state noise standards. In addition, he said the selectmen are trying to get the state to test the turbine’s flicker impact.
The most frequent flicker, or strobe-like effect, has occurred about 640 feet from the turbine at 151 Driftway, the home owned by Mark and Lauren McKeever. Mark McKeever gave the most impassioned speech Wednesday night, with his voice cracking several times as he talked about the turbine’s impact on the health of his two children.
McKeever said the flicker has tormented his children, causing headaches and sleep deprivation. He spoke to town meeting while a video of the flicker at his home was projected onto a screen.
“Everyone deserves to be in a safe environment, and my children deserve it, too,” McKeever said.
Steven Tassini of 138 Vernon Road doesn’t live near the turbine, but he said it’s the town’s responsibility to protect residents from harm.
“I can draw the line when it comes to health,” Tassini said. “I can draw the line when I know there are kids on sleep medication to help mask them from their environment.”
Aside from Murray, Lisa Bertola of 52 Elm St. was the only resident who spoke out against the resolution. She said if the turbine was shut down, Scituate would be turning its back on its mission to protect the environment.
“I am personally, as a mother of three, petrified of the 5 million tons of carbon that will go back into the atmosphere if we shut down this turbine,” Bertola said.
Murray said the turbine has already saved the town about $181,000 in energy costs and will save the town $4.2 million over 15 years. The turbine, on town-owned land next to the wastewater treatment plant, is owned and operated by Scituate Wind LLC, a private entity.
Murray said shutting down the turbine without proof that Scituate Wind had violated its special permit – approved by the planning board in 2010 – could expose the town to a costly lawsuit. If the turbine were to be shut down only at night, he estimated it would cost the town about $3.5 million over 15 years. If shut down altogether, he said the town would lose about $12 million.
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