NORTH SMITHFIELD – The Zoning Board of Review heard detailed testimony on the health and visual impacts of whirling wind turbines Tuesday night as it resumed its hearing on a proposed 462-foot-tall wind energy generator at the Pacheco family farm at 810 Old Smithfield Road.
The board heard opposition to the location of the wind turbine in North Smithfield both from residents abutting the proposed site and also from a number of people who went to the hearing to list the impacts they have experienced from turbines near their homes in Portsmouth, Johnston, Cranston and Coventry, R.I.
All of the turbines discussed were installed or updated by Green Development LLC, the developer of the proposed 1.5 megawatt wind generating structure at the Pacheco Farm.
Linda Ferry of West Coventry told the zoners that the quality of life her in neighborhood was significantly diminished almost overnight when 10 turbines were erected in the rural area in June of 2016. Today, she said, she and her neighbors live in the middle of an industrial zone with many impacts from the sound of the moving turbines and the flickering light they cause at certain times of the day.
Ferry described the location of wind turbines near residential homes as “an experiment gone bad,” while saying the residents have experienced the problems with wind turbines firsthand.
“Me and many of my neighbors in West Coventry are paying the price, paying the price with a diminished quality of life,” Ferry said.
Dogs will bark at the flicker shadows created by the towers, and some residents relatives will not visit because of the migraine headaches they have experienced in the area, she noted.
Residents complain of not being able to sleep at night because of the sound from the turbines, and others have experienced headaches and even heart palpitations and heart rhythm issues from living near the power generating structures.
Some of the impacts can vary due to weather and the time of the day but Ferry said neighboring residents are not “hypochondriacs,” while explaining that residents can actually feel the air pressure in their homes changing at times when the turbines spin.
The residents have sought the help of their town officials in addressing the impacts but have gained no relief from that effort.
“They talk and talk, nothing gets done, and the years go by,” she said.
Rather than review submitted information from developers on the turbines, Ferry suggested town officials should go to an existing generator when the problems are occurring to experience their impacts.
“Let’s have a town meeting at my house at 3 a.m. in the morning, she said.
Before Board Chairman Robert Najarian opened the floor to public comment, the panel heard additional testimony from Green Development on the location of the turbine on the farm and clarification of what site plan was being submitted.
Green attorney John Mancini had indicated that Green would be including information on an alternative location for the turbine with different property line setbacks for the generator tower than the current filing but after a discussion of the matter, the developer continued on with its original submission which Najarian noted was in compliance with the town’s setback requirements.
That step avoided the need for a possible re-submission of the developer’s request for a special use permit for the turbine and a height variance of the town’s 35 foot height limit for structures.
Patrick Dowling, a resident of Old Sayles Hill Road, and an attorney representing opposing residents, opened the public comment period with a review of the application concerns he had raised previously and maintained the proposed use is not consistent with the current uses in the rural area of Old Smithfield Road. Dowling also noted objections raised by the City of Woonsocket over potential impacts to its water resources in the area and also suggested that the setback requirements allowed in local zoning may be less than recommended in state recommendations for such projects.
Michael Rapko, a resident of Greenville Road, told the board that while wind and solar power projects have been raised in the town as potential financial support for preserving open space land, the town should also consider establishing a way to protect open space by creating leases paid by the town to limit future development on certain parcels.
David Souza of Portsmouth, one of the out-of-town wind power opponents attending the hearing, said the wind turbine installed by Mark DePasquale of Green Development in his community has generated “a lot of issues,” for neighboring residents.
The turbine, replacing an older model of turbine installed by another company, sounds like a “jet” circling over his home, Souza said.
And, he offered the board members “if you come by around 4 o’clock, you can enjoy the flicker,” from the rotating generator.
“We have been promised he would mitigate the flicker on our house and I have not seen it,” Sousa said. Souza suggested that the town do an independent study on the impacts of wind turbines before rendering its decision and noted the State of Massachusetts has put out a report that details many of the problems associated with the power generating towers.
Another Portsmouth resident, Denise Wilkey, said she also has experienced the problems of noise and flicker that Souza raised.
“Like David said, it sounds like a jet engine circling,” she said.
Wind turbines, she argued, “should never be sited in a residential zone,” and noted that she and her neighbors will be dealing with the related problems for the next 25 years.
Jessica Simpson of Cranston, who lives near the 7 wind turbines installed by Green in Johnston, said she can see four of the towers from the sun room of her home.
The sound they generate varies with the weather conditions and at the higher levels they cause “sleep deprivations” for neighboring residents, Simpson said. Simpson said she has not been able to fall asleep at night because of the turbines and also worries than her son could end up with seizures caused by the flicker from the turbines due to playing outside.
Noting that she and her neighbors continue to seek remedy of their concerns, Simpson said “we have a long battle ahead of us in Cranston with Johnston,” where the turbines are located.
Keith Heroux, a resident of Old Smithfield Road and a real estate broker and attorney who also has relatives living in the neighborhood, said he had not experienced a wind turbine close up until seeing one while driving in Fairhaven and stopping to get a closer look. While initially thinking a plane was fly over, Heroux said he quickly learned the sound was actually being made by the turbine.
“I couldn’t believe the sound of the jet engine. I walked around the area front back, etc., if I went right under the turbine I stood near the pole, it was the quietest that it was but anywhere else it was projecting the noise out to the point that it sounded like a non-stop jet going overhead.”
Heroux also told the board that residents in the area could expect their properties to be devalued by up to 65 percent as national real estate studies have shown.
Maureen Souza, whose family has also lived on Old Smithfield Road for many years, suggested that while some have argued the town would benefit from the wind turbine, she did not see that as a factor and instead suggested that the town has no protection in the proposal against one day having to bear the cost of removing the structure. She also contended that the turbine could catch fire someday and noted that the town currently does not have the equipment to address such a situation.
“No one in North Smithfield will benefit, we don’t want it, we don’t need it and the Town of North Smithfield doesn’t want all the problems this wind turbine will bring,” Souza said.
While most of the speakers voiced opposition to the turbine, some like Ralph Ferra of Iron Mine Hill Road, who is working with Green on a solar farm at his property, and Ruth Pacheco, owner of the wind turbine site, suggested that there would be few impacts while supporting the plan.
Pacheco pointed to her neighbors as being concerned about their property values and noted that in contrast four homes have recently sold on Old Smithfield Road and one of them “for a little less than a million dollars.”
The property owner said she has been lauded by the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council for the events her farm has hosted over the years and also noted the bees maintained there help to pollinate vegetation throughout the area.
As for the noise potential, Pacheco also objected to the opponents’ contentions.
“Please don’t talk to me about rural character, we are sandwiched in between Route 99 and Route 146, talk about noise,” Pacheco said.
“As for the watershed, we are all on it,” the property owner said. “I also wonder why the Heroux business doesn’t shake anyone up on an RA district,” she said while noting that family’s longtime uses in the neighborhood. “It exists on the watershed and when Henry Heroux was in the oil tanker business my son-in-law worked for him so that fact is undeniable,” she said. “Now they are in the fire truck repair business and they talk about my industrial turbine,” Pacheco said.
Pacheco maintained that the turbine would hardly be visible on her forested farm property despite the objections of her neighbors.
“Turning to noise levels, listen to Route 146 at a busy time,” she said while questioning why everyone was “worried about one turbine on a very small piece of land surrounded by trees.”
After listening to the residents and asking some technical questions of the developer, the zoners continued the hearing to May 14 when its members are expected to begin deliberations on the proposal as submitted.
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