FALMOUTH – Neil Andersen and Barry Funfar did not know each other before the town of Falmouth put up two industrial-sized wind turbines near each of their houses.
Since those two turbines began operating in 2009 and 2010, Andersen and Funfar have become good friends. So that’s a positive. They bonded over their mutual fight to stop the turbines from operating. And then they won the fight. They view that as a positive too.
But Andersen, 66, described himself as “very bitter” and Funfar, 72, said he is “an emotional basket case” after the almost decade-long fight against the town to stop the turbines from ever turning again in Falmouth.
Both Funfar and Andersen claimed, along with several others living near the 400-foot tall turbines, that they and their wives were suffering severe physical ailments whenever the turbines operated.
After many years, and several different lawsuits, they won – both in court and, finally, in Falmouth Town Hall. Falmouth Selectmen recently voted to never allow those two turbines to run again in Falmouth – not in their current locations or anywhere else in town.
A third privately-owned turbine of similar size continues to turn inside the Falmouth Industrial Park. It was unaffected by the legal action that led to Falmouth permanently shuttering the town’s two wind turbines.
But for Andersen and Funfar, the fight is over.
“I got a screen door for my front porch again,” said Andersen.
And Funfar, who had a manicured garden that became overgrown during the years the turbines operated, said he is starting almost over. “I love being out there,” he said. “But it’s different now. It’s kind of like starting anew.”
One of the turbines has not turned since 2015, and the second was ordered shut down in 2017. They may be dismantled and moved somewhere out of town.
The town was expected to make money on the turbines running. Instead, it lost a costly lawsuit and it must still pay for the turbines as well as to remove them – a cost estimated at more than $12 million.
By comparison, the town with $12 million in extra debt for turbines that will never run again has an annual budget of about a $130 million.
It started with the best of intentions. Green energy and all. But now it is over and no one is exactly happy.
While there are many people on both sides of the divisive Falmouth wind turbine issue who continue to express their opinions in letters to the editor and op-eds in local newspapers, for this story Cape Cod Wave only talked to Andersen and Funfar – two people we recall as the earliest and most vociferous of opponents of the turbines.
Dream Houses In The Woods
Andersen and Funfar are not even in the same neighborhood, but they have a lot in common. Both are military veterans, each owned a successful business, and each built their own house.
Funfar, a Marine veteran, grew up in North Dakota and he met his wife, a Massachusetts native, when he returned from Vietnam in 1969 and she had taken a job with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in North Dakota. She liked Massachusetts so they moved east. Funfar opened a carpet cleaning service.
Andersen grew up in the Berkshires and came camping to the Cape as a child, to Nickerson State Park in Brewster. In 1970, when he was 18 years old, his parents bought a house in the Pinecrest Beach area in Famouth and he was hooked. He loved Cape Cod. He remembers glorious summer days swimming in Jenkins Pond.
He spent three years in the Army after his military draft lottery number was 001. It was during the Vietnam War era but he spent a lot of time in South Korea. When his time was up, he moved back to Falmouth and spent 14 years as a Falmouth summer police officer while spending most of his time as a carpenter. Andersen became a building contractor.
Andersen owns a 4,000-square foot that he built himself in 1990 on 1.82 acres of land on Blacksmith Shop Road. His land abuts conservation land, as well as the town wastewater treatment plant.
Funfar owns a 5,000-square foot house he built himself in 1982 on .67 of an acre on Ridgeview Drive, “but our neighbors on both sides have built to the opposite sides of their lots making my property appear much larger than it is,” he said.
“When you build your own house,” said Funfar, “it gives you a much greater attachment to your property than just moving into a ready-made house.”
“It’s not just the house,” said Andersen. “It’s the landscaping, the plants your father gave you, putting your own sweat into it.”
They are attached to their land, their houses.
Before the turbines started running, Funfar said he was taken on a tour of much smaller turbines in Hull and told those were the type coming to Falmouth. “It seemed fine to me,” he said. “There was no great noise or anything emanating from those.”
But the turbines that showed up in Falmouth were much bigger.
Symptoms – “This can’t be.”
“The very first time I heard the turbine, on April 9 of 2010, I thought, this can’t be,” said Funfar. “I thought something was out of alignment, or it wasn’t tuned up properly. I was working out in my yard and I couldn’t think or concentrate with that thing going on.”
“Mainly it was the sound. You’re not hearing the birds chirping. When you are out gardening, you want to relax, concentrate on what you are doing. There were vibrations in my chest. I ended up calling it my anxiety center in my chest. It was just a crappy feeling. And the symptoms worsened over time, the longer you were exposed to it.”
Andersen said his symptoms included “headaches, pressure in your ears, not being able to sleep, heart palpitations, just the incessant pounding day and night. We couldn’t get away.”
“The worst was a wind from the northwest. The second worst was a wind from the southwest,” he said. In other words, he said, it was whenever the turbine’s front or back faced his house. It was not bad, he said, “when the wind blew east or west and we would just see the tips of the blades.”
“The winter months were the worst,” he said. The noise penetrated into his house, said Andersen.
“The whole thing with low frequency is, imagine you are sitting there in your house or wherever you are and a diesel truck goes down the road, or a car with that really loud low bass music. That low frequency goes through everything. Glass, insulation can’t stop it,” he said.
Andersen said he and his wife, Betsy, were told to keep a daily record of their experiences, and he showed Cape Cod Wave several calendar “journal” pages written by his wife showing what appears to be her desperation. One such page, that of February 2011, includes the handwritten words, “Help!,” “OMG!,” several other exclamations, and even a drawing of her face with tears running down it.
Funfar was a helicopter door gunner on 127 missions in Vietnam from February 1968 until October 1969. In 2003, he went to a Marine counselor who told him, “You have issues with Vietnam.”
Thus, Funfar was already dealing with PTSD when the turbines went up and, he claimed, exacerbated his stress.
In November 2010, Funfar removed all the guns from his house. His Marine counselor recommended the step as a way to control the anger and post traumatic stress disorder.
In 2011, Funfar told this reporter, “I’m pissed, I’m traumatized, and I don’t want to see anything out there. I hate wind turbines.”
He felt desperate.
In July 2011, Funfar hung a ketchup-stained scarecrow on the gates of the Falmouth Wastewater Treatment plant, where the two town turbines are located. The scarecrow was wearing a sweatshirt that said, “The wind turbine is killing me.”
A Long Fight
Because of their fight against the turbines, “Neil and I became very good friends,” said Funfar.
“He was there when I needed him, and I think I was there when he needed me,” said Andersen.
But Andersen and Funfar were not the only ones complaining about the turbines and the affect on their health. Several neighbors complained and joined or helped lead the cause. “I’m eternally grateful for the others that stuck it out with us,” said Funfar.
“We were involved in nine lawsuits,” said Funfar. “Our group kept dwindling. People either couldn’t afford to keep fighting or the mental anguish was too much. By the end, there were 10 or 11 of us footing the bill on all the costs.”
While there were the group actions against the town, Andersen and his wife filed their own separate nuisance lawsuit, while continuing to work with the others.
“The outlook of most of the neighbors and their attorney and their direct statements were these will never come down,” recalled Andersen. “That busted me and Betsy up,” he said.
“After a short while, Betsy and myself broke off from the group and obtained our own lawyer. The first thing my attorney said when we told him [that others thought the turbines would never come down] was, ‘Why not?’”
While Funfar didn’t split off, he agreed with Andersen. “The thought of the majority, and even in our group, was that they’ll never come down. But I was like, they have to come down. Every minute they run them, I can’t stand being at my house.”
As the lawsuits and fight with the town traveled along several parallel courses, there were small wins along the way, said Andersen. “At one point they limited operation to 12 hours a day,” he said. “That was great, actually. It helped an awful lot.”
That small victory kept him going in the fight, he said. “We persisted. We didn’t think it would go on as long as it did, but we got a little bit here and there. We were getting victories. Shutting it down at night was great.”
Two months later, the town increased operation of the turbines to 16 hours a day, he said.
Through it all, there were legal fights. Andersen said the town’s insurance company’s attorneys were “ruthless. They don’t give a shit. All they want to do is win.”
Andersen and Funfar never gave a thought to abandoning the fight.
“Hey, I was in the Marines,” said Funfar. “We don’t give up. I knew that if I moved, I would regret it the rest of my life.”
Andersen said, “We honestly thought we would get some help. From the town of Falmouth, from the health department, from the state… We had no choice. We had no place to bail out to. You don’t just give up like that.”
The town, and those supporting the turbines, did not give up easily either.
In this environmentally-conscious town, the turbines were at first a source of pride. But it was more than just green energy. There were millions of dollars invested in the turbines, which were then expected to produce millions of dollars of energy for the town. Many pointed out that the less the turbines ran, the less money they made.
By 2013 as the legal fights continued, the board of Selectmen had been unsuccessfully trying to mediate the issue for years and so they asked town meeting, which passed the issue to town voters.
In May 2013, a ballot question asked town voters whether they would support taking the turbines down and 6,001 voters voted to leave them up, while 2,940 supported taking them down. It was 2 to 1 in favor of leaving the turbines up.
Court cases continued.
The turbines continued running part time, pleasing no one.
“Once we decided to stick with this, it just snowballed,” said Andersen. “We couldn’t really bail out. We were too far into it.”
“We probably spent $100,000, including legal fees, appraisal fees and witness fees,” said Andersen.
“And we spent an awful lot of gas money. We traveled around Southeastern Massachusetts just to get away,” said Andersen. The turbines didn’t always bother them, he said, so they didn’t always leave their house. It depended on the wind speed and wind direction, said Andersen.
“Just by looking at the weather report, I could tell how it was going to be,” he said. “I’d say Come on Betsy, and we’d drive, drive, drive.”
Day after day, when the turbines were bothering them, the only way to get away from it was to literally get away, said Andersen.
Funfar said he and his wife, Diane, also spent considerable time away from their house.
But instead of day trips, the Funfars traveled the world for long periods at a time.
Retired, Funfar said he would have certainly traveled anyway. But he said that they traveled about four times more than he would have because of the turbines. Even though he loved his yard, he always needed to get away, he said.
“I avoided my own property as much as I could,” said Funfar. “I took cruises. I went to Australia for a month. In seven years, I spent a thousand days away from home to avoid the turbines.”
“We won but in a way we didn’t win,” said Funfar. “Essentially, we still lost our house,” he said. He re-mortgage his house to pay legal bills and for his extensive travel to places to get away from his Falmouth house.
“My wife and I depleted our life savings and I re-financed of our home three separate times,” he said. “We had our house paid off,” he said. “I’m 72 years old and I owe a 30-year mortgage on my house.”
“We can’t give our house to our kids free and clear,” he said.
Was it Worth It?
What happens when you fight for years for something that you believe in, and then you win?
What is the toll?
“This ordeal was an intensive intrusion and detriment to our health, well being, and quality of life and greatly exacerbated my condition of combat PTSD,” said Funfar. “My biggest loss was the eight years of my golden retirement years, which … because of my then-better health, should have been some of the best years of my life.”
What if your cause, to stop a wind turbine from turning, is quote-unquote politically incorrect? What if some people told you the symptoms you were feeling were either all in your head, or couldn’t possibly be caused by wind turbines?
Andersen said one town official “said a lot of bad things about us.”
And yet what if you knew that the people who put up the turbine did not intentionally want to hurt you, but just wanted to help the entire town – heck, the entire world, and then they seemed to find your health to be a nuisance to their cause.
“We were told we were giving alternative energy a bad name,” said Andersen.
And what if the cause you were fighting for would cost town taxpayers, your neighbors and friends, millions of dollars when you won? What if you became something of the public face of the fight, at least as some saw it, to raise taxes?
Once, Andersen said, he was at a store when someone in line said to him, So you’re the one who’s costing me all the extra money on my taxes. “He might have been kidding, but that hurt,” said Andersen, who called that the “real zinger” of many insults he’s endured.
“There are some real mean bullies in this town,” he said. Eggs were even thrown at his house, said Andersen.
They were accused of being funded by the Koch brothers, said Andersen.
“I don’t know the Koch brothers. I spoke to a community fighting a turbine one time in Rhode Island and they gave me 50 dollars for gas money. I spoke in Shelbourne Falls and they bought me dinner,” he said.
Andersen said he has been to about 15 communities “just telling the reality… just telling our story. You just don’t bail out when you have a problem.”
Instead, he found himself as something of a traveling witness against industrial wind turbines near residential neighborhoods. “It just got be be such a battle between wind and anti-wind, which it wasn’t,” he said. “The whole thing is they were just too close, period.”
“Me and Betsy moved out here to two acres in the woods because we wanted some privacy,” said Andersen. “Imagine that.”
Can There Be Healing?
The complicated story of the Falmouth turbines after millions of wasted dollars and almost of a decade of wasted town anguish is the story of many people trying to do what they thought was the right thing. But the dual interpretations of “right thing,” in fact, meant two opposite things.
For both Andersen and Funfar, the right thing meant the same thing and there was no question ever in their minds that it meant the turbines must stop and never run in town again.
As for lingering effects, Andersen said he has a ringing in his ears from the turbines.
Funfar said, “Now I have heart problems that I never had before. To me, those things [the turbines] are stress generators. Stress is hard on anyone I think I have these problems because of the turbines.”
“As far as moving on, well I have to,” said Funfar. “I am an example for my kids and grandkids. That’s really my life, my family. So I’ll do okay.”
“I’m trying hard not to have any animosity,” said Funfar. “I think the town will totally heal over this. I just hope that there are some lessons learned that when you go into a project, you study it before you commit.”
Andersen said, “Maybe the town will heal. Most people don’t even think about them unless you mention them.”
Stay or Go? Two Different Answers
Just before the Andersens went to trial with the town over their nuisance claim, Andersen said, the town tried to buy his house.
“They gave us a shitty little offer,” he said. “It was fair market value, but as soon as we would have signed the offer sheet, they would have turned the turbines back on 24 hours a day. There was no money for moving expenses or anything like that,” he said.
“Another thing we had to do was file with the registry of deeds that the nuisance had been eliminated from the Andersen residence,” he said.
The nuisance of a spinning wind turbine has, in fact, been eliminated from the Andersen residence. Now that the fight is won, the Andersens also plan to remove themselves from the Andersen residence.
“We’re moving,” said Andersen.
He said he and his wife plan to move “somewhere off Cape. We’re not sure where.”
Andersen said they plan to move within a couple of years . His finances, because of the long fight, do not yet allow him to yet sell his house and move, he said. But as soon as he can, he will, he said.
“We don’t feel comfortable in this town any more. What this town has done to us is embedded in our minds and in our hearts,” said Andersen. “We have been labelled as complainers. What if there is another issue that comes up? What if there it is something at the treatment plant? Who do I go down and complain to? The board of health? The selectmen?”
He plans to move, he said, because of how town hall treated him and how some of those he called “windies” treated him and his wife and neighbors.
Asked why, after winning such a long fight, he planned to move, he said, “Falmouth is beautiful. The harbors, the bike path, Woods Hole. And we’re out here in the woods.”
Yet, Andersen said, those who wanted to keep the turbines running “were just so brutal against us. The fight just got so brutal, we need to go. We had our good times.”
As for Funfar, he said, “I go to counseling every week for my PTSD. At one point, my doctor wrote on my prescription pad what I should do. It was one word: Move.”
But the old Marine would not give up. He loves his yard, his garden. “I spent most of my time out in that garden. You don’t leave something like that,” he said.
And the long fight, he said, “was a lesson to my kids. When you’re right, if you don’t stand up for your rights, what else is there?”
“So many people kept telling me that you can’t fight City Hall,” said Funfar. “We were lucky, I guess, in that this fight was against Town Hall.”
Funfar plans to stay in his house.
While he feels he should be repaid for his legal and travel expenses, he said of the mortgage debt on his house, “I look at it as the price I paid for, you could say, winning. And I don’t feel like traveling any more.”
“Falmouth is a great place,” said Funfar. “Falmouth is the best place I’ve ever been.”