FALMOUTH – The Board of Health will ask selectmen to reconsider the operating hours for the town’s municipal turbines, but is stopping short of ordering them to either change or expand the eight-hour downtime.
The 5-0 vote came Monday night after more than an hour of debate about how much evidence the board has concerning sleep disruption of turbine neighbors and if it is enough to justify an order, which would carry a legal authority that could be challenged in court.
Ultimately, a majority of the board decided the evidence wasn’t there to back them up and force a change to the turbines’ current off times, which are 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
“This is something we’ve come up against again and again. We don’t have sufficient facts to stand up against a legal argument,” said Board of Health Chairman Jared Goldstone.
The Board of Health had been turbine opponents’ best remaining battleground in their quest to limit or end the turbines’ operation, and the lack of a more decisive action Monday night upset attendees. Several turbine foes left in the midst of the discussion as it became more apparent an order was not forthcoming.
The two 1.65-megawatt turbines at the town’s wastewater facility on Blacksmith Shop Road have been the focus of an ongoing debate since their installation. Neighbors complain about noise and health issues and others say the town must run them to recoup their installation costs and provide a source of renewable energy.
Selectmen set the current operational schedule to try to balance neighbor complaints with the town’s financial needs. The turbines had been running for 12 hours a day, but that was insufficient to generate enough income to offset operating costs.
The 16-hour operation, determined to be the “break even” point for their costs, was a compromise from the suggested 20- or 24-hour operation, which would have generated enough revenue to create a mitigation fund.
A review of other sound ordinances at both the municipal and state level across the country showed that most consider 7 a.m. to be the end of nighttime hours, said Goldstone. The beginning of the so-called quiet hours varied, but tended to be closer to 10 p.m., he said.
The Board of Health will suggest, in a letter to be sent this week, that selectmen review their decision and change the off-hours to something more in line with Goldstone’s research.
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