BUCKLAND – Only five residents turned out to the Buckland Planning Board informational meeting on Thursday, June 12 to hear about the proposed wind facility bylaw.
“I was not surprised at the turnout,” said Planning Board member Michael Hoberman after the meeting. “Well, maybe just a little. Considering the diversity of opinions in the town on this subject, I guess I was a little surprised that more people didn’t show up to add their two cents. But I’ve also been on Planning Board long enough to notice that sometimes people don’t show up at the earlier stages to discuss these matters, but instead wait until they’re actually up for a vote.”
The hearing has been set for Wednesday, July 22 at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.
The proposed bylaw prohibits large-scale wind facilities – those greater than 120 feet tall or that generate more than 250 kilowatts of electricity; it specifies where “small wind” installations may be installed and delineates standards and requirements. Standards do not apply to roof-mounted wind installations.
The proposal includes clear stipulations regarding the use of small-scale systems, including setbacks, financial surety in case a windmill needs to be dismantled, and provisions that ensure the protection of wildlife, natural resources, and views.
In the proposal, no shadowing or flickering on off-site, inhabited buildings is permitted. Resident Janet Sinclair thought this should pertain to all buildings within a property line.
“I feel that people’s full property should be protected,” said Sinclair, challenging the flicker effect disallowed only regarding “inhabited buildings.”
“If there are adverse affects, property line or no property line, complaints can be filed under this bylaw,” Hoberman, underscoring that a neighbor would have recourse.
No “beacon” light may be installed unless required by the Federal Aviation Administration and other lighting must be limited and shielded from abutters. A contingency plan of protocols to mitigate unexpected adverse impacts, such as noise and flicker, must be in place. No small-scale installation may increase the broadband sound level by more than five decibels above ambient sound, produce a “pure tone” condition, result in sound/noise levels greater than 30 decibels or result in excessive low-frequency noise.
It was suggested at the meeting that the required balloon test be for longer than the eight consecutive hours now stipulated in the bylaw proposal, and instead last for three days to one week, including a weekend.
Unlike the situation of a balloon test for a cellular telecommunications tower, when a balloon test is run for a wind installation, an application must be forthcoming within 21 days or the test has to be performed again.
Sinclair took issue with several language details of the application, some of which board members agreed to run by town counsel.
“You can’t write the perfect bylaw to govern the future,” said Rob Riggan, who has been serving on the Planning Board but is resigning to serve as selectman.
Sinclair suggested there was no need to rush to approve a new wind-related bylaw and noted a conversation with Building Inspector Jim Hawkins in which she said he’d told her he wouldn’t approve a building application to construct something higher than 50 feet – the general structure height limit in the current bylaw for many West County towns. Some towns, including Ashfield, have stuck with the, existing bylaw provision for hew wind regulations.
Sinclair also made the argument that the bylaw ought not state the Planning Board can waive design standards, such as height, since an applicant could request a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals. Any variance would have to meet high state standards and could be open to a court challenge, Gould said this week, replying to questions via e-mail. In addition, he noted the average tree line is 60-80 feet, so the 50-foot-high limit “effectively kills wind power.”
“While any provision could be subject to a variance request, that is no more true of this bylaw than of any of the zoning bylaws currently on the books, and is no less or more likely to be successfully appealed than the current bylaws,” Gould said, addressing the variance issue.
Height variances, he said, could also be requested for wind electric generating facilities under the existing bylaw, which allows them by special permit in four zoning districts and does not specify a height above which they are prohibited.
“Thus, the existing bylaw is not a desirable protection, as it is subject to the same challenge proposed in the question about the new one,” said Gould. “Furthermore it contains none of the protections, restrictions and requirements found in the new bylaw, for wildlife, evaluations, health effects, etc ….
“I think your issue is that you really don’t want any wind power in town,” Riggan said to Sinclair during the meeting.
“I’m just saying there’s no panic button,” said Sinclair, adding that she doesn’t believe the town is under the gun to write a bylaw and approve it before the current moratorium enacted at annual town meeting runs out.
“It’s fine to feel strongly and that one thing should happen in a particular way, or should not happen,” said Gould. “We cannot have a partisan position as a Planning Board. I think you would acknowledge we began this process looking for a way to make things possible while putting in whatever protections we could for alternative energy installations. I think you’ll agree that we eliminated one of the most contentious parts, the large-scale wind generating facility. And we have to leave the possibility for someone who is still an advocate to put up a facility. The job is not to prevent ways of doing it.”
He later added, “There are many legitimate concerns with wind turbines. Many people have spent a lot of time exploring them, and I think this bylaw does a pretty good job of addressing them, and furthermore it provides for revisiting both those issues and for addressing unforeseen adverse effects.”
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