Toward the end of the second night of Scituate Town Meeting (April 10), voters – after a lengthy and often emotional discussion – voted against Article 28, which would have rescinded the special permit granted to the owner of the turbine, Scituate Wind, LLC.
The article failed 132 to 118.
Residents eager to comment on this non-binding petition article lined up at the microphones before the article was even introduced.
Gerard Kelly, a member of the Community Group who sat on the wind turbine steering committee formed by the Scituate Board of Health to comprise a protocol for the acoustical study, presented the article.
“This article will allow the appropriate town officials to exercise their authority and responsibility to protect the health and safety of the residents of the Town of Scituate,” he began.
Areas of concern, he said, include excessive noise, shadow flicker and “the resulting adverse health impact experienced by residents.”
“When Scituate embarked upon this journey, all of the participants were well intentioned but misguided.”
He said that Scituate should follow the lead of Falmouth, who made the decision last May to turn off their wind turbines from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Instead, according to Kelly, the response from the Scituate Board of Health, selectmen, and a former member of the conservation committee, “is that we should pull the shades.”
Selectman Rick Murray also addressed the article.
Murray, who pointed out that he lives on Third Cliff and sees and hears what he referred to as the ‘windmill’ daily, said he voted with the rest of the selectmen against the article “for several reasons, not the least of which is that the sound of the windmill is negligible compared to the train and cars on the Driftway/Kent Street.”
He said there have been occasions when calls were made to the police about the windmill, but which turned out to be noise from the train.
Murray said the town spent six years of public hearings, permitting hearings, and the formation of committees.
“Components of the windmill plan were approved at Town Meeting – that is by you – in 2008 and 2009,” he said. “Some people have said that there wasn’t enough advance notice, and that they didn’t know the windmill was going up, and so on. However, it is hard to miss a six-year process involving multiple Annual Town Meetings, public comment meetings, media reports, blade signings, you name it.”
Murray stressed that the town is “committed to being sure that the windmill is being operated in a safe manner.”
“That is precisely why our board of health has conducted ten or 11 full hearings about its operation” Murray said.
Murray mentioned the acoustical study set to begin that will determine if the turbine is operating within the state limits.
He also said that the town has contacted Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Richard Sullivan about having the town “piggyback” on the Town of Kingston’s potential study of flicker. He said Sullivan’s office has offered to have the Massachusetts Clean Energy Commission assist Scituate with flicker studies.
“Thus, not only are we paying attention to the issue, but we are doing everything we can, in a measured, proportional, and well-regarded fashion, to see if there is a problem, and what to do about it,” he said. “To deviate from the course we are on with a premature, irresponsible, and emotionally charged action does not serve the town well.”
Murray said the town has saved approximately $181,000 in energy costs since the turbine has been up and running, and that an estimated $4.2 million would be saved over 15 years.
Should the town shut down the turbine, which would be a breach of contract, there would be a $12 million loss, as well as the possibility of a legal suit against the town.
“The bottom line is this,” he continued. “If the sound is above the state-mandated threshold, then the company fixes it. Period. If the sound is not above the state-mandated threshold, then so be it.”
The majority of the speakers was in support of the article, or mentioned possibly shutting down the turbine until the results of the acoustical studies are complete.
Mark McKeever gave testimony of how his family has been negatively impacted since the turbine went online about a year ago.
As McKeever spoke, video footage of the interior and exterior of his home, with flicker from the turbine clearly visible, was shown on a projector screen.
“Scituate Wind told us the turbine would not make us sick,” he said, adding that his family has become sick since the turbine went up.
He also said he was not aware of the size of the turbine.
“The day the turbine blades rolled into town was the day we realized how big it would be,” he said.
The flicker of the turbine, he said, is “overwhelming.”
“We have nowhere to go,” he said. “We can’t enjoy our home.”
Tom Thompson, who has acted as the spokesperson for the neighbors, read a prepared statement with permission from the voters of Town Meeting (though a Scituate resident, Thompson is not presently a U.S. citizen and thus unable to vote).
“The Neighbors of the Scituate Industrial Wind Turbine support all forms of alternative energy as it represents an important component of the overall energy mix in the country and makes a positive contribution toward our energy security, energy supply, air quality, and climate change,” he said. “However, to inappropriately site these industrial wind turbines in close proximity to residential neighborhoods is dangerous and irresponsible.”
Thompson said that placing a 400-ft tall industrial wind turbine within 650 feet of a residence was “outrageous.”
“But that is exactly what has happened in the case of the McKeever family,” he said. “And as was the case here in Scituate, legislation allows wind developers and their engineering supporters to proceed with these developments using modeling that grossly understates the levels of noise and strobe light generated by these industrial wind turbines.”
However, resident Lisa Bertola said that while she sympathized with those being affected by the wind turbine, those in the room did not represent the entire Scituate community, of which, she said, many supported the wind turbine.
After over an hour of discussion on the article, and two voice counts, the Article 28 failed by hand count 132 to 118.
As far as what’s next for the turbine discussion, the acoustical studies – one being done on behalf of the board of health and the other by the neighborhood group – are anticipated to be done by May when the next steps, if any, may be determined.
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