FALMOUTH – Neighbors who have fought for seven years to stop the spinning blades of two municipal wind turbines won a major victory last month in Barnstable Superior Court, but any euphoria they may have felt is dulled by the potential for an appeal.
Judge Cornelius Moriarty upheld the local zoning board’s finding that two 1.65-megawatt turbines at the town’s wastewater treatment facility were a nuisance, and he ordered them shut down.
The town had filed the lawsuit against its own zoning board, one of nine legal cases involving the turbines. Wind 1 has not operated since September 2015, due to a separate cease-and-desist order from the zoning board and the denial of a special permit.
Selectmen ordered Wind 2 shut down last week after Moriarty’s decision.
A few days after Moriarty’s June 20 decision, selectmen announced they had to gather more information before deciding what to do next, since the town could be on the hook for dismantling the turbines as well as loans and grants used to buy and install them if the turbines remain offline. The total potential cost to the town was previously estimated at $14 million.
On Monday, selectmen are scheduled to discuss the case during an executive session that is off limits to the public.
The town has until July 20 to file a notice of appeal of Moriarty’s decision in Barnstable Superior Court. If it appeals, the case would be heard by the Massachusetts Appeals Court – a process that could take a year and a half, said Falmouth Town Counsel Frank Duffy.
Barry Funfar, a turbine abutter who was involved in the recent court case, said he feels “riled and worried” as he and others wait for selectmen to make their move.
Funfar fears the town will appeal and ask for a stay of Moriarty’s ruling until the appeal is heard, which could put Wind 2 back in motion.
“It sounds like a firm decision, but the law can be interpreted just about any way you want,” said Funfar, adding that other judges may be sympathetic to the town because of the costs related to keeping the turbines shut down. “It may depend on the judge you get.”
The state’s Clean Energy Center, a state agency that promotes renewable energy and had fronted some money for the local turbines, has been no friend to his Falmouth neighborhood over the past several years, according to Funfar.
“From the beginning, neighbors have been just collateral damage,” he said.
The Clean Energy Center takes “its responsibility as a steward of public funds seriously and works closely with communities across the Commonwealth on projects supported by the local community,” Clean Energy Center spokesman Craig Gilvarg wrote in response. “We remain in contact with the Town of Falmouth regarding these issues.”
Selectmen said last week that attorneys on both sides would get together and try to come to some agreement that might take care of the recent case and several other wind turbine challenges that are pending.
Attorney Christopher Senie, who represents 10 neighbors in several pending wind turbine cases, confirmed that town officials “had reached out” to attorneys working with abutters.
“Right now, the best hope for everyone is to sit down and talk about how we can solve an issue which has divided the community,” Senie said.
Funfar is afraid residents might be offered money by the town in exchange for allowing at least one of the turbines to operate. No deal, he said.
“The doctor has told me to move,” said Funfar, a veteran who has suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. “I had the choice of fight or flight. I built a home that has roots for our family and I’m not giving up.”
Neil and Elizabeth Andersen live closest to Wind 1, which is just 1,300 feet away from their home. Neil Andersen, a home builder, says he is a lifelong supporter of green energy, and built his home on Blacksmith Shop Road in 1990 focusing on energy efficiency.
“This house is super insulated,” he said. “I have passive solar. I’ve built greenhouses.”
The Andersens have suffered several health problems they say are related to the nearby turbines, with symptoms kicking in as soon as Wind 1 became operational in 2010.
“Within a day or two, it hit my wife,” Neil Andersen said. “She could feel the pressure right off the bat. She started losing sleep. Then neighbors started talking and said they were feeling the same thing.”
Andersen described the feeling as a pulsing sensation “that gets into your head and into your chest and doesn’t stop.”
Andersen said he’s frustrated with local officials.
“We’re bitter because we thought it would be simple to just go down and say to the town, ‘there’s a problem,’” he said.
Instead, the couple has had to hire attorneys to try to force the turbines’ shutdown.
Maybe this time will be different, he said.
“I’m glad the selectmen didn’t come back and say ‘we’re going to appeal,’” he said. “At least they’re thinking about it.”
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