It has become a cliche to say, towns targeted for industrial wind installations are torn apart by the experience. If it’s an experience you haven’t had, you might well wonder what’s behind the cliche. If you really want to understand, you might start by asking the question, what is the nature of the bonds that hold a community together in the first place?
I don’t know about your small town, but in ours, neighborly bonds tend to be of the feel-good type: I do you a kindness and we both benefit. You break your leg? I plow your drive. Your weed whacker is in the shop? I lend you mine. Your brother dies? I go to the funeral, even if I didn’t know him. What a dandy fellow I am, and everyone knows it.
These small acts of kindness do indeed build a sense of community. But as with other relationships, you don’t really know your community until the chips are down. You don’t know what “for better or for worse” means until you get to the “worse” part. You quickly find out, when a wind developer comes knocking on your community door. It’s very bad times, at least for some people. And the fact that people are differently affected depending on where they live is, it turns out, at the heart of what you learn about “community.”
You learn when the friend from over the way regards you with a steely gaze when you tell him, “My home, and my family’s home, are a half mile from five 500-foot tall wind turbines.” “I feel for you,” says your friend, quickly changing the subject.
You learn when you try to explain that your fear and sadness are keeping you awake. “All my family’s wealth is in our family farm, which would lie less than 3,000 feet from five 40-story wind turbines. We won’t be able to live here, and the land owner and developer have said they wouldn’t compensate anyone for lost use of their property.” “Please,” chuckles your friend, “it won’t be that bad.”
You learn when you look at the people who are fighting as hard as you are to stop the wind turbine project and realize that the project will probably not affect them so personally, but that they care about their neighbors who will be harmed. And you know they will be next to you, blocking the road, if the day comes when the unimaginably huge trucks arrive with wind turbine parts.
In our little town, we’ve spent nearly four years watching the company reps of the wind developer, an immense multi-national, mosey about on our ridgeline, trying to answer their precious question, is the “wind resource” on your pristine ridgeline enough for us to make lots of money by putting turbines here?
But we have a question too, and although we’ve looked equally hard for the answer, we can’t find it. Our question is, what will happen to us, as individuals and as a community, if the developer does decide we’re good enough to “host” their project? Who will care for our tattered community, and our damaged lives?
That there is no answer to, or even interest in, our question does not feel good – it feels abusive, unjust. It feels vicious, violent. It feels as if Vermont, my entire family’s beloved adopted home, were the most dangerous place in the world for me and my family to live.
So the days go on, lessons abounding. I learn about mercy, for instance, when I hear my husband on the phone with a “friend,” explaining that turbine noise at a distance of less than half a mile stands a good chance of affecting the development of my infant grandson’s brain. Then I hear my husband, suddenly fierce, say, “I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me!”
Well you know what, my friend? I am asking you to feel sorry for me. I am asking you, god forbid, to have pity on me. I am asking for your mercy. Your answer will tell me something very important about “community.”
Nancy Tips lives in Windham.
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