The wind turbine issue may further divide Falmouth before its May 21 ballot. This, despite the town leadership’s goal to reunify the community. And this, likely due to the message from last week’s Town Meeting. Falmouth’s April 9 Town Meeting decision should give voters cause for great concern, whereby any capital municipal project acknowledged as an unfortunate mistake, will be deemed acceptable if it should cost too much to fix.
I don’t pretend to know the mind of the voter. The situation is a murky mess of financial figures and highly charged emotional convictions. My intention is to try to makes some sense of how we got here, and how we might proceed.
Before the wind turbines, residents shared a deep sensitivity for Falmouth’s soundscapes and it’s tranquil natural peace and beauty. These were central to our experience of place and home. We began sharing a commitment to stem global warming, to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, to conserve, and all of us embraced a renewable energy future. These community values have not, nor should they change.
The health and property value concerns of some neighbors have somehow, incorrectly, been swallowed up into a broader resistance to wind energy. Neighbors have been painted as anti-turbine, NIMBY, whiners or profiteers hoping for lucrative compensation.
On the other side of the debate, the local residents working for groups that planned the wind project and that support its continuation, are not the uncaring, stubborn green energy advocates that some neighbors may believe. They are sincere in their work and are friends to many of the same ideals we all share. They believe this hampered and problematic wind project can still work. They don’t want the turbines removed no matter the cost.
I would, however, hope voters understand that the adverse impact our two turbines impose, has expanded beyond just a few neighborhoods. It has evolved into affecting all residents of Falmouth. Voters should remember why we’ve all come to treasure living in Falmouth. These values are guides to the experience of why Falmouth is our place and our home.
The deeper, difficult questions to the voters are whether the project’s initial community wide benefit has been realized. Whether, after turbine operation curtailment, noise tests, health testimonials, the Wind Turbine Option Process and countless town meetings, if any residual community wide benefit exists? Unfortunately, there is none. The question is no longer whether Wind I and Wind II inflict unacceptable levels of harm upon Blacksmith Shop Road or Craggy Ridge neighbors. As it exists now today, the true problem has become whether voters should perpetuate the community chasm caused by a local planning mistake.
I would hope the decision would be made with full consideration of all adverse impacts, (physical to some – financial to all), rather than simply pretending or assuming consequences are not real.
The consequences are real, and will likely be grappled with by voters, albeit in ways that often are only counted in dollars and cents (if some members of town meeting serve as example). For neighbors, their experiences are real, and the questions they ask are about how and when the community will fix a mis-sited wind turbine project, close enough to cause unexpected problems. For wind energy advocates, global warming is real, and the questions they ask are about how and when the community will commit fully to necessary steps of mitigation. For voters, the dilemma has become too real, and the question they must decide is whether we can afford a path forward and make Falmouth whole again.
The issue is not about whether wind energy is good or bad, or whether a minority is sacrificed while the majority is not. Some neighbors want the turbines removed. Others accept them operating with night curtailment, eliminating intrusive sleep disruption, yet all the while operating at a deficit. And still others are convinced their full operational capacity is vital to war against climate change, even if it means taking homes and properties. Whichever is chosen, an enormous cost to the community is assured.
Voters are left with a painful case of windburn, thanks largely to the state. Ballot question 2 is a high stakes quandary. The selectmen’s approach, in going forward, is to take the turbines down. This action, bolstered by values central to why Falmouth is our place and our home, allows all to adapt, modify, overcome and reunite… as a community.
Yes, it will cost money. It is the price of Falmouth forging toward a better sense of itself and toward far more opportunities for future public good projects.
“Isn’t Falmouth nice” is not merely a statement. It’s a continuing compelling challenge to the community… to be better!
Mark J. Cool lives on Fire Tower Road in Falmouth