Buzzards Bay resident Ian E. Davies was in his back yard on Gainsboro Drive one fall day last year, raking leaves. A couple of cadets from Massachusetts Maritime Academy were helping him with the yard work. At one point, one of the cadets stopped and asked Mr. Davies, “How do you stand this?” The cadet’s question referred to the constant “whoosh, whoosh” of the propellers on several nearby wind turbines.
“I keep thinking there’s a jet landing, I keep turning around,” Mr. Davies said the cadet told him.
Mr. Davies shared his story with the Bourne Board of Health on August 8. He and more than a dozen other Buzzards Bay residents attended the meeting to ask the board’s advice and help them deal with the four wind turbines erected at Keith Mann’s cranberry farm just over the town border in Plymouth.
In his address to the board, Mr. Davies said the turbines affect residents in several different ways but ultimately in one—they are a nuisance. Among the ways residents are affected, he mentioned what is referred to as “amplitude modulation,” in essence, the jet noise referred to by the MMA cadet.
“I said to him, ‘That’s what we go through when these are at full force,’ ” he said.
There is also infra-sound, or a low frequency audio caused by the turbines’ operation. The sound cannot be heard by humans; however, it can interrupt deep sleep. That results in sleep deprivation which causes anxiety, he said. Similarly, infra-sound can be heard by dogs and other pets. He spoke of one resident whose Irish setter was found quivering on a kitchen counter. Another resident’s dog always runs to a closet upon arrival home.
“The animals know they’re going to be impacted; consequently, they hide,” he said.
There are strobe lights from the turbines that flicker at night in his living room and bedroom that give him the impression of “living in an industrial park.” He added that a number of residents have chosen to sell their homes rather than have to confront the ongoing presence of the turbines. He acknowledged that the board might have limited authority given the location of the turbines.
“We realize they’re in the Town of Plymouth, but that noise, that infra-sound, all that modulation is coming over onto our properties,” he said.
In a ruling dated April 8, 2016, Barnstable Superior Court Judge Gary A. Nickerson denied a request from the Town of Bourne for a preliminary injunction prohibiting operation of the wind turbines. Judge Nickerson ruled that because the turbines are located in Plymouth, Bourne’s board of health has no jurisdiction.
The judge based his ruling on the board of health’s own Wind Energy Conversion System (WECS) regulations. The key section of the regulations that the judge referenced falls under the heading of Applicability.
The section states “No person shall construct or install a WECS in the Town of Bourne unless in compliance with these Regulations.” However, those Regulations “do not empower the board to regulate the construction of wind turbines in the Town of Plymouth,” Judge Nickerson said.
“Although the Home Rule Amendment confers broad powers on municipal governments…it does not appear to be so expansive as to permit local ordinances or bylaws that, as here, regulate areas outside a municipality’s geographical limits,” he said.
In that same ruling, however, Judge Nickerson cited the “broad powers to regulate and prevent nuisances that affect public health” that the board of health does hold. His ruling ended with the proviso that the board of health may have future legal recourse to combat a nuisance to the town, and its residents.
“It remains to be seen as to whether the operation of the wind turbines will constitute a nuisance which affects the health of the inhabitants of Bourne; and, if so, whether the Board takes lawful action thereon,” he wrote.
Karen M. Gibides of Morning Mist Lane, Buzzards Bay, reminded the board of that part of the judge’s ruling. Ms. Gibides added that she and the other residents were appealing to the board for help and guidance as to the steps they need to take for relief from the turbines.
“We are a few human beings that are being tortured for the greater good, according to the Town of Plymouth. We don’t know where to turn, so we’re turning to you again,” she said.
Ms. Gibides said that Mr. Mann, the owner of the cranberry farm where the turbines are located, told her to seek available mitigation funds that would help with the cost of sound-proofing her windows. When she went to apply for those funds, she was told they were only available to Plymouth residents “even though we live closer than most Plymouth residents,” she said.
Ms. Gibides noted that a report currently under review by the state Department of Environmental Protection indicates that the noise levels generated by the turbines “far exceed what the Town of Bourne regulations are.” She concurred that Bourne’s board of health cannot regulate anything located in Plymouth. However, if the turbines were in Bourne, they would constitute a nuisance that residents were being forced to live with, she said.
“We believe that regardless of where the noise comes from that the board would probably agree that it’s a nuisance because you’ve developed these bylaws to indicate what was safe for your residents,” she said.
Chairman Kathleen M. Peterson said the board’s hands are tied until the DEP finishes its review of the report submitted to the agency on the sound generated by the turbines. Once the DEP has its recommendations finalized, the board can schedule a meeting with the state agency, Ms. Peterson said. She added that she had submitted a request to the town for legal assistance in the matter from town counsel Robert S. Troy. No one has responded to her request, she said.
“I have nothing to offer you legally. I thought I might. I don’t, I apologize, I tried,” she said.
Ms. Peterson also suggested that residents schedule appointments with their doctor to have documented any ailments they are suffering from due to the continued operation of the turbines. She promised that she and Bourne Health Agent Terri A. Guarino would contact the state DEP “and find out what we can do, how we may be able to help you.”
The board agreed to revisit the issue in early October, giving plenty of time to get answers from DEP.
“Continue doing what you’re doing. Hopefully at some point, we can help you,” Ms. Peterson said.
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