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Falmouth board labels turbines a ‘nuisance’

FALMOUTH – The zoning board of appeals declared two town-owned wind turbines a nuisance in a 4-1 vote Thursday night.

The decision overturned Building Commissioner Eladio Gore’s determination that noise from the turbines did not constitute a nuisance. Turbine abutter Neil Andersen, of 211 Blacksmith Shop Road, appealed that decision in November, and the board closed that hearing last week.

“I personally feel like this is a nuisance to Mr. Andersen,” said board member Scott Zylinski. “Otherwise, why would he put himself through all this?”

Andersen’s appeal complained about the noise at the town’s wastewater treatment facility on Blacksmith Shop Road, which contains two 1.65-megawatt turbines, Wind 1 and Wind 2. Since the first turbine began spinning three years ago, abutters have complained they create excessive noise and cause health problems such as headaches and vertigo.

The zoning board has no enforcement authority, and its decision now goes to Gore’s office, which will draft the decision to be signed by board members.

It was not immediately clear on Thursday what Gore’s options are with regard to enforcement action.

Gore did not return a voicemail left at his home after the decision Thursday night.

“I’m surprised by the decision,” said Selectman Douglas Jones. “I guess I’m a little surprised that the ZBA would step in to countermand what the building commissioner wanted to do.”

The decision, which required four votes to pass, came after the board spent about 45 minutes discussing the vague guidelines in town bylaws for what amounts to a nuisance. Bylaws define a noise nuisance as “offensive, obnoxious and objectionable.”

Gore’s ruling that the turbines do not create a nuisance was based on a November report by the state Department of Environmental Protection that the turbines do not exceed daytime noise limits, board Chairman Matthew McNamara said. But the DEP limit is out of date and does not properly address noise created by turbines, he said.

“I don’t believe there is a standard,” said McNamara, who added that the DEP is considering revisiting its noise standards. “What is obnoxious, what is objectionable really comes down to our sensibilities.”

The one dissenting board member, Patricia Favulli, said the complaints were not based on fact, and that the nuisance guidelines are too vague for the zoning board to use in the case.

“I just don’t get this nuisance standard that you’re using,” Favulli said to McNamara. “I don’t think you can establish (what is a nuisance).”

The vote comes as Falmouth residents prepare to vote on whether the town will fund the removal of the two town-owned turbines.

Selectmen placed a question on the May 21 election ballot that asks voters to allow a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion to fund the decommissioning, dismantling and removal of the turbines and to repay grants, prepaid renewable energy credits and other costs associated with removal.

If voters say yes, any debt incurred to remove the turbines would be exempt from the limits of Proposition 2½, which caps property tax increases at 2.5 percent above the tax base.

The question does not specify the cost of removal.

State officials last month told the town there would be no forgiveness for about $1 million in prepaid renewable energy credits and nearly $5 million in stimulus grants used to construct the turbines.

Town Manager Julian Suso has estimated removing the turbines will cost a total of $14 million.