The Trustees of Reservations has the right to build a 410-foot-tall wind turbine on its Cohasset property at the top of Turkey Hill on the Hingham border, a state Appeals Court judge ruled last week. But the statewide conservation organization has not decided whether to move ahead with the plan, which has been tied up in the courts for more than three years, a spokesman said.
“At this point we really are exploring our options,” said Jim Younger, director of structural resources and technology for the nonprofit, after the judge’s ruling. “We’re very excited about the opportunity, that’s for sure, and thrilled with the decision. But things change.”
Younger said the approximately $6 million cost was a factor in whether to proceed, as well as changing technology and other conditions. The organization has installed power-generating solar arrays at several of its properties, but this would be the first wind project, he said.
“We think carefully and thoughtfully about all the projects we undertake. We have a responsibility to the community and our supporters,” he said.
Damon Seligson, a lawyer representing the nursing home that challenged the turbine’s approval by Cohasset, said this week that his client had not yet decided whether to appeal the decision.
The Trustees of Reservations first proposed the wind project in 2010, saying the electricity it generated would reduce the group’s carbon footprint and educate the public about the benefits of “clean, renewable wind energy.” The site is on its Whitney and Thayer Woods property and adjacent to the Weir River Farm in Hingham, with a sweeping view of Boston Harbor and the city’s skyline.
The organization, which manages about 25,000 acres of conservation land in Massachusetts, said at the time that it would finance the turbine through a combination of state grants, federal tax credits, and public and private investments.
Cohasset’s Planning Board – which previously turned down an unrelated wind project in town – approved the trustees project in March 2011. The special permit was appealed by Golden LivingCenter, a nursing home near the proposed turbine site.
The state Land Court upheld the Planning Board’s action, and Golden LivingCenter then took its challenge to the state Appeals Court.
In a ruling issued last Wednesday, Judge Alexander H. Sands III decided in favor of the Trustees of Reservations and the town, finding that the Planning Board had acted appropriately, and rejecting all of Golden Living’s complaints about the process.
The nursing facility had said the Planning Board didn’t follow its own rules, and the turbine would create public safety and public health hazards, especially from noise and flickering shadows.
The concern that noise and shadows from spinning turbine blades cause health problems for neighbors is a recurring theme among opponents, and has been raised in other communities, including Scituate and Kingston.
In response to neighborhood complaints, the Scituate Board of Health is studying the impact of noise from a privately owned turbine that began operation on the Driftway in March 2012, according to its chairman, Russell Clark.
Kingston’s annual Town Meeting voted in April to place a two-year moratorium on new wind turbine proposals, and to amend zoning rules to require wind-power developers to prove that shadow flicker would not affect any nearby homes.
The action came after neighbors living near turbines built by local businesswoman Mary O’Donnell complained that the flickering shadows from the 400-foot-tall structures were making them sick.
The Cohasset Planning Board addressed the public health issues by bringing in consultants and adding numerous conditions to the special permit issued for the Turkey Hill turbine, according to the Appeals Court ruling.
“The record indicates that the board did not act arbitrarily with regard to safety and that it adequately addressed Golden Living’s concerns by imposing extensive conditions for approval and ongoing operation,” the ruling said.
“While there are no federal, state, or local regulations governing maximum acceptable levels of shadow flicker, the generally accepted industry practice limits shadow flicker to no more than 30 hours per year,” the ruling said. “The feasibility study found that, assuming 100 percent clear skies and no shadows from trees or structures, the Vestas 90 model turbine would create a maximum of fifty-five hours of shadow flicker per year at the Golden Living property.”
In addition, the Planning Board “conditioned approval of the special permit on the requirement that the wind turbine be shut down if actual shadow flicker impact exceeds 30 minutes per day or 30 hours per year,” the ruling said.
The judge noted that a study predicted the turbine would not cause noise problems, and the Planning Board’s approval includes a requirement that the turbine to be shut down if it exceeds certain decibel limits.
In his ruling, Sands concluded that the Planning Board “made sufficient findings to support its approval.”
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