The Charlestown Zoning Board’s third hearing on the Whalerock wind turbine proposal drew a crowd of about 200 people Wednesday night, many of them opponents of the project who were eager to present their views.
But before the testimony even began Wednesday night, hopes that this would be the final hearing in the contentious process were dashed when the board chairman, Michael Rzewuski, set dates for two additional hearings on June 26 and July 17.
Standing at the door of the Charlestown Elementary School, neighbors and other project foes handed out anti-turbine stickers and braced themselves for another long evening.
Kristan O’Connor said she was doubtful that Nicholas Gorham, the attorney representing developer Larry LeBlanc’s company, Whalerock Renewable Energy LLC, would present his last witness, allowing the opposition to make its case.
“This will be Mr. Gorham’s show again tonight,” she predicted, adding that residents who say they would would be affected by the project have not yet been allowed to speak.
Ron Areglado, an abutting property owner, said he never knew what would happen at this or any other hearing.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” he said as he waited for the hearing to begin. “Since the hearings have started, there’s no agenda other than a public hearing.”
Areglado had requested that board members Richard Frank and William Meyer recuse themselves from the proceedings because they are friends of LeBlanc. Both men refused to do so.
Whalerock is seeking a special use permit to build a pair of 272-foot tall turbines on an 81-acre residential-zoned property north of Route 1.
Gorham’s principal witness of the evening, Jay Singer, spent about two hours answering questions from Gorham and zoning board members. Singer, a professor at the University of Rhode Island, repeatedly testified that there was no peer-reviewed scientific literature to corroborate the assertion that wind turbines could be detrimental to human health.
Singer was introduced as an expert on the sound generated by wind turbines. He is an audiologist whose resume and list of published papers indicate an expertise in communicative disorders. Singer told the board that he did not know of a single scientific study that linked wind turbines to human health problems.
“This is my conclusion: regarding hearing loss, annoyance, sleep effects, balance effects, mental health problems and organic diseases, no evidence shows a meaningful correlation with wind turbine exposure and absolutely no cause and effect. In other words, the evidence indicates no harm from wind turbines to humans,” he said.
Board member Ron Crosson said, “The literature also said that an industrial wind turbine is not really designed to be placed in a residential zone.”
As 10 o’clock approached, and the spectators began to get up and go home, Gorham introduced his final witness, real estate appraiser Michael Lenihan.
“What effect would it have on the surrounding neighborhood?” Gorham asked Lenihan, referring to property values.
“It’s obviously something that would have to be taken into account,” Lenihan answered. “You’d have to mention that it was there. But we looked at the majority of the uses in the neighborhood, it’s really not going to have any effect on the market value in my opinion.”
The next two hearings will take place at Charlestown Elementary School and will begin at 6:30 p.m.