Falmouth Board of Health on Monday last week voted to support a bill currently under discussion in the House of Representatives. The bill, filed by State Representative Sarah K. Peake (D-Provincetown), and sponsored by nine other legislators, including known environmentalists in the State House, would create a 19-member commission to investigate and study the health impacts on individuals living within proximity of wind turbines in Massachusetts.
“I’ve been to hearings and met people who live on the Cape and I believe them that they are suffering as a result of being in proximity,” said Rep. Peake. “I am a believer in wind energy, I just think there are appropriate places for them and this commission will determine if there are places where turbines shouldn’t be placed.”
The bill was brought to the attention of the board by Linda H. Ohkagawa of West Falmouth Highway, who said the bill felt like a breath of fresh air compared to past studies. Ms. Ohkagawa went to the bill hearing on July 9 at the State House, where she was joined by other Falmouth turbine abutters.
Rep. Peake said she realizes there already have been a number of studies done, but the importance of this study, she said, was its dissociation from the Department of Public Health.
The DPH is part of the executive branch, she said, which has been trying to increase the use of renewable energy, and that’s a good thing, but not when testing the adverse effects of these renewable energies.
“With an administration trying to increase wind power while at the same time studying the effects of wind power,” she said, “that’s a little like having a fox in the hen house.”
Members on the commission would include residents who say that they have been affected by the wind turbines, a key voice that Rep. Peake said has been missing from past studies.
“They will have a seat at the table as well,” she said. It is important to give them a voice in the debate, she said. Three who have claimed to have health effects and live 5,000 feet from turbines would be assigned to the commission, appointed by the regional planning agencies of counties in Barnstable, Berkshire and southern Massachusetts.
Rep. Peake said that on the one hand, she is optimistic that the bill will be passed because it is revenue-neutral to taxpayers and is volunteer-based. On the other hand, she is not overly optimistic, stating that these types of bills can be held over for long periods. At the bill’s July 9 hearing, it was passed to the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Public Health. The health committee can wait to act on the bill until March of 2014, although Rep. Peake hopes they will move on it long before that.
She said that it is extremely helpful when a board of health sends a letter, proving that there is a broad base of support for the bill. The board of health in Falmouth is especially important, she said, because it has firsthand experience with the turbine issue.
Others in the commission, appointed by the governor, would include one member of Wind Wise-Massachusetts and one from Wind Wise-Cape Cod, two wind energy advocacy organizations; two members from local boards of health in areas with complaints; two physicians considered experts on adverse impacts from turbines; one PhD researcher from the National Institutes of Health specializing in the field of otolaryngology; and one physician who has written an article in an internationally recognized journal on the health effects of turbines.
The others appointed would be members of the Senate and House of Representatives, the commissioner of the Department of Public Health, the commissioner of the division of health care finance and policy, the director of the state laboratory institute, and the state epidemiologist.
In addition to Rep. Peake, petitioners are Daniel A. Wolf (D – Harwich), Randy Hunt (R – Sandwich), Timothy R. Madden (D – Nantucket), Brian R. Mannal (D – Barnstable), William S. Pignatelli (D-Lenox), Colleen M. Garry (D-Dracut), Thomas J. Calter (D – Kingston), Bruce J. Ayers (D – Quincy), and William N. Brownsberger (D – Belmont).
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