FAIRHAVEN – The nearly hour long question and answer debate between the two candidates for the Board of Health Aug. 28 showed contrasts between the two candidates, including over the controversial wind turbines. The election will be held this Monday, Sept. 9.
Incumbent Peter DeTerra and challenger John Wethington fielded questions from Ariel Wittenberg of The Standard-Times and Beth David of the Neighborhood News, including questions submitted by the audience prior to the debate. Charles Murphy, who chairs the Board of Selectmen, moderated the debate and set the rules for the event.
Each candidate had the opportunity for a 15-minute opening statement and each spoke well under that time. Mr. DeTerra said while the wind turbines are a controversial subject, the Board of Health is involved with much more on a daily basis. He said he has had the time and is not beholding to a special interest and that he has not missed a meeting of the board.
Mr. DeTerra said efforts are being made to address the concerns of the neighborhood in the vicinity of the wind turbines. He said some steps have been taken such as slowing the turbines down and “feathering” the blades. He added that this is an ongoing issue and that an acoustic engineer would be hired to provide independent oversight of compliance.
Mr. Wethington took issue with the Board of Health’s handling of the wind turbine issue. He said the board should have educated itself on wind turbines and should have spoken with people who live in the neighborhood. He pointed out that despite the defense of the turbines, a bylaw has been passed by the Planning Board to limit the size and setbacks for future turbines in Fairhaven. He called the bylaw an attempt to address concerns about wind turbines.
Mr. Wethington said that he is not for dismantling the turbines, but feels that they should be regulated so that people in the neighborhood can have a good night’s sleep. He said turbines of that type usually stop being effective in five to six years. Mr. Wethington said the amount of money the town receives from the turbines ($150,000) was a small fraction of the overall budget. He said the town entered into a terrible contract that favors Fairhaven Wind “leaving us scraps.”
Mr. Wethington called for an open meeting to discuss the issue and have residents speak on their experiences.
The debate on the turbines continued with discussion on the Board of Health decision to stop them from operating from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. after they exceeded state regulations for noise levels and then being allowed to continue after the developer offered to make changes to bring them into compliance. The state requires the turbines to add no more than 10 decibels to existing background noise.
Mr. Wethington noted that the turbines failed the testing and for a time the people in the area did sleep well while the turbines were shut down at night.
Mr. DeTerra noted that the state Department of Environmental Protection was involved and that the Board of Health had accepted a plan to curtail the noise and bring the towers into compliance.
Noise of a different kind from the Fairhaven Shipyard was another topic brought by the two panelists.
Mr. Wethington said there should be an open meeting on that issue, similar to the wind turbine complaints, for the residents of that area to have a chance to bring their concerns. He noted that there was a difference between the two issues in that the shipyard does not operate 24 hours a day and that it was there before the residents moved in.
Mr. DeTerra noted that the board has been in contact with DEP on the issue.
The two men were asked about the rate of pulmonary disease in the vicinity of the shipyard.
Mr. Wethington said that he knew of three cases of people with COPD and felt testing of the air and ground should be done.
Mr. DeTerra noted that the Board of Health did not have the money or the tools to handle that type of work, which is why they rely on DEP to do the testing.
Mr. Wethington, a registered nurse, said his experience in the health field would be an asset to the Board of Health. Asked whether he had time constraints that would limit his ability to serve. Mr. Wethington answered that while he does work many hours, he also has time off and would be able to do the job.
Mr. DeTerra said he goes to Town Hall nearly every day and is available. He added that there were certifications that members receive and that he took a soil evaluation class that took 10 days’ time that he paid for himself.
The debate began with a question about a potential conflict of interest for Mr. DeTerra as a contractor who digs septic systems while sitting on the Board of Health.
Mr. DeTerra pointed out that 95 percent of the town has public sewer and that he does not vote on properties that he has worked on. He added that his work is inspected by agents from outside of town.
In his rebuttal time, Mr. Wethington noted that Mr. DeTerra did have a conflict of interest that caused him to abstain from voting.
Mr. Wethington was asked about his proposal to collect expired medications; he said he would make an effort to educate the public about disposing of old prescriptions.
Mr. DeTerra answered that there is a disposal program in place.
Another medical related issue, medical marijuana, was bought up.
Mr. DeTerra answered that there is a 52-page letter from the state that points out that the issue is controlled by the state.
Mr. Wethington said he is opposed to medical marijuana shops, and felt that the medical use of the product should go through pharmacies, not marijuana stores.
Mr. DeTerra was asked about evidence that resulted in a complaint he made against an individual who the candidate said had threatened him. Mr. DeTerra answered that the incident took place two years ago and that he referred it to the Police Department.
There was also a question for Mr. DeTerra about a board member’s benefit package including pension and health insurance. He noted that the Board of Health members receive $1,333 in salary and that is below the $5,000 necessary to be eligible for a pension. He did say that he has health insurance from the town as do others.
Mr. Wethington said he felt it was unethical for a person to work three to five hours a week and equate that with full-time employees.
The two men debated the results of the previous election with Mr. DeTerra feeling he had the win and that Mr. Wethington’s protests cost the town money in court and having another election. Mr. Wethington said there was enough of a dispute with the ballots to require the election to be judged invalid. He said town counsel and selectmen felt that there should be another election and that the courts agreed.
There was a question about increasing curbside recycling and each candidate felt that educating the public was key.
Education was also called important by both candidates when a question about mosquitoes, coyotes and rabies was presented.
Mr. DeTerra noted that efforts have been made to curtail mosquitoes including tablets deposited in 2,500 catch basins as well as spraying.
Mr. DeTerra said having a full time secretary for the office was among the goals for the near future.
Mr. Wethington said the town has one of the highest incidents of child obesity in the state and said that needs to be addressed.
Mr. DeTerra answered that the School Department regulates the lunch program.
Mr. Wethington said that the board should be working with the School Committee.
Mr. DeTerra came back to say that they did.
When it came to ways of educating the public, Mr. Wethington noted that besides face to face, they could issue some type of mailings.
Mr. DeTerra noted that the Board of Health had a limited budget and that education was a priority.
Following the debate, Mr. DeTerra said the event was worthwhile because, although some of the questions were the same, more had happened and was known since the debate prior to the spring election.
Mr. Wethington also said the debate went well, pointing out that neither of the candidates was a politician.
“Maybe at 11 o’clock tonight I will think of something I should have said,” Mr. Wethington said. “I’m glad it is over.”
Moderator Murphy said the candidates did well and also praised the audience of about 50 people who crowded the Council on Aging room.
“I am glad that they (the audience) showed respect,” said Mr. Murphy, ” I appreciate that they kept it cool.”
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