HOPKINTON – The Hopkinton Town Board met Tuesday evening to work through some of the remaining areas of disagreement with the new proposed law regulating construction of wind turbines. While there was no public comment section during the meeting, resident turnout was still high, with a number of opponents and supporters of turbines in the town attending.
The new wind law would replace the current town law, passed in 2011. It would regulate the North Ridge Wind Energy Project, which the energy company Avangrid plans to establish in the town. The new law was drafted by the Wind Advisory Board, but there have been a few areas of disagreement among town board members.
“As advertised, tonight is a work session for the wind law to see if we can come to some kind of agreement on moving this forward,” said Town Supervisor Susan M. Wood as the meeting began. “We’ve been going over this for over a year and a half, so I think it’s time we move on.”
Town board members Kelly Pullano, Steven Parker Jr., and Susan Lyon were all present, while another board member, Gilbert Sochia, recused himself from the discussion due to a conflict of interests, as his father has leased his land for a possible wind turbine, according to Ms. Wood.
Once discussion got underway, the board agreed on some of the most contentious issues with relative ease.
There has been disagreement about the overlay zone, the area where turbines would be permitted to be constructed, and whether it should be extended south of State Route 72, as requested by Avangrid.
During the meeting, Ms. Wood said she initially supported extending the overlay zone south of Route 72 in exchange for more restrictive noise levels and turbine setbacks.
“That was before all the petitions came in,” Ms. Wood said. “After I saw them, I no longer wish to do that.”
At the last town board meeting, residents presented the board with 150 petitions by residents opposing the expansion of the wind overlay zone.
“The overlay zone is determined solely by the town board, and should never be dictated by the wind company,” Ms. Pullano said, adding her support to the more restrictive proposal.
“The majority of us on the board want to stick with the wind board advisory decisions?” Ms. Wood asked the board, and received assent from the rest of the board.
At that, many of the residents in attendance applauded.
The board has also been divided about provisions setting the maximum allowable noise level at 40 decibels, measured at the nearest non-participating property line or residence, as well as setbacks of five times the maximum height of the turbines. As the turbine height is set at 500 feet in the proposed law, this means a maximum setback of 2,500 feet.
These issues did not pass entirely without comment – Ms. Pullano said she felt 40 decibels was too high.
“More and more towns are going with 30 to 35, because they’re finding 40 is too much,” she said.
Mr. Parker expressed his opinion that the setbacks were excessive, but conceded after Ms. Wood, Ms. Pullano and Ms. Lyon agreed to the proposed 2,500 foot maximum setback.
“I think they’re a little restrictive,” he said. “But you’ll override me.”
The only remaining item that brought comments was a proposal to allow property owners within a mile of a turbine site who feel their property value has been reduced by the presence of a turbine to be compensated for the loss, based on the recommendations of two appraisers.
Mr. Parker expressed his feeling that any loss would be hard to determine.
“There’s so many factors in what raise or lower property values,” he said.
While there was no public comment planned, Ms. Wood allowed MaryJane Toomey, a member of the wind advisory board, to speak about the proposal. Ms. Toomey suggested that the appraisal be done when property was sold.
“Are we allowed to respond?” asked Robert A. Panasci, a partner at Young/Sommer, LLC, which represents Avangrid. When told he would not be allowed to respond, he said “I just want it to be noted for the record that only one side was allowed to speak.”
The board also approved an increase in the fine for violating the proposed town law from $350 to $2,500.
The meeting concluded with the board setting a date for a public hearing on the law at 6:30 p.m. March 14.
As the meeting ended, members of the audience applauded again.
“Thank you,” shouted Jeffery Snell above the clapping. Snell, a local resident and vocal opponent of the wind project, was ejected from a Hopkinton public hearing on the law in August by Ms. Wood. But tonight, he was pleased with what had been accomplished.
“I’m very happy with our town board,” he told The Times.
Following the meeting, Mr. Panasci went to the board to complain that the proposed changes had not been made available ahead of time. He left an email, requested several documents, including a copy of the proposed law with the changes, and then left the hall quickly. Residents applauded his exit, calling out “our town,” “go home,” and “we don’t want you.”
Mr. Panasci declined to answer questions, saying, “I’m sorry, I’m worried for my safety, so I have to leave,” as he walked away from the meeting.
Despite the contention at the end of the meeting, members of the board were optimistic about what they had achieved during the work session.
“I think we’re getting closure,” Ms. Wood said. Referring to the wind overlay, she said, “when the majority says they don’t want it, it needs to go with them.”
As for the meeting, “It went faster than I thought it would,” she said.
Ms. Pullano, who has pushed for tough restrictions on the wind project, was particularly enthusiastic.
“We listened to the community and we represented them and I’m thankful to all the board members,” she said.