Town officials are unsure about the next step in Falmouth’s wind turbine tumult after a town board declared turbine noise coming from the town wastewater treatment plant to be a nuisance.
The Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals decision overturned Building Commissioner Eladio Gore’s determination that noise from Wind 1 and Wind 2, the 1.65-megawatt turbines at the town’s wastewater facility off Blacksmith Road, did not constitute a nuisance. But abutter Neil Andersen, of 211 Blacksmith Shop Road, appealed that decision in November, saying Wind 1 was too noisy.
Zoning board members voted Thursday that Andersen’s complaint met Falmouth’s bylaws standard of “offensive, obnoxious and objectionable.”
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.
Selectmen may appeal the board’s decision within 20 days, and will likely discuss the decision during a closed-door executive session before their public meeting Monday, Selectman David Braga said. But he doubted the board would appeal.
“I really don’t know where we’re going from here,” Braga said Friday.
The zoning board has no enforcement authority. It is now Gore’s obligation to enforce the decision.
Town Manager Julian Suso said the zoning board must file an official written decision with the town clerk. He said he and town attorney Frank Duffy will have to see the written decision before determining how the ruling can be enforced.
“I think there will be an appropriate direction provided,” Suso said in an interview Friday. “But it would be inappropriate to determine what that is (right now).”
On Friday, zoning board member Kenneth Foreman, who voted in favor of overturning Gore’s decision, didn’t know about enforcement options or requirements, either. Gore based his ruling on a November report by the state Department of Environmental Protection that said the turbines operate within daytime noise limits, board Chairman Matthew McNamara said at the zoning board meeting Thursday evening. He argued that the DEP limit is out of date and does not properly address noise created by turbines.
Andersen lauded the decision on Friday and said he hopes Gore orders the turbines shut down.
“You take the wind turbines out of the picture,” Andersen said. “It’s a nuisance and you deal with it like you deal with any other nuisance.”
The last time the zoning board declared noise from a property to be a nuisance was in a 2008 appeal decision about machinery noise at Associates of Cape Cod Inc. in East Falmouth, which sells pharmaceuticals.
That appeal was made by Loretta O’Brien of Blacksmith Shop Road. John Ford and Ed Hobart, also Blacksmith Shop Road residents, testified before the zoning board that machinery on Associates of Cape Cod Inc. property diminished their quality of life. The board voted 5-0 in their favor.
O’Brien, Ford and Hobart have all complained that turbines in Falmouth have diminished their quality of life, and all have called for decommissioning them.
Falmouth is also currently awaiting a decision from a Barnstable Superior Court judge in a turbine-related lawsuit levied against the town.
In the lawsuit, six plaintiffs – all Falmouth turbine abutters – are challenging a 2011 ruling by the zoning board that affirmed Gore’s approval of Wind 1 without a special permit.
In addition, 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.
On Thursday, the zoning board will hear an appeal by Linda Ohkagawa, who argues that the Wind 2 turbine is a nuisance to her property.