NORTH SMITHFIELD – Neighbors on an otherwise quiet street found themselves at odds Tuesday night with a large numbers of residents who turned out to protest an application by North Kingstown-based Green Development to build a 462.5-foot wind turbine on land owned by Ruth Pacheco at 810 Old Smithfield Road.
The Zoning Board hearing followed close on the heels of an initial meeting in March during which company representatives laid out their plans for the turbine, a $7.5 million project expected to generate 3.8 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. Though residents were present at that meeting as well, the two-and-a-half-hour presentation took up a majority of the three-hour time slot, leaving most residents to hold their comments on the proposal another month. Only Patrick Dowling, an attorney and town resident representing neighbors opposed to the proposal, had a chance to voice opposition at the initial meeting, laying out an overview of residents’ concerns related to noise, health and compliance with town zoning regulations.
On Tuesday, those who had waited since March had a chance to have their say, bringing up concerns ranging from the health impacts of the “shadow flicker” created by the turbine’s spinning blades to a potential decrease in property values. Richard Drolet, a resident of Old Smithfield Road, called the proposal a “money grab,” while Kyle Santos, also a neighbor, said she suffers from migraines and questioned the impact the noise and shadow effect might have on her and her children.
“Lights like these when I’m having a migraine can curl me up into a ball and shut me down, so I can’t even imagine living with the flicker pattern,” she said during the meeting in the North Smithfield Middle School cafeteria.
Board members also heard from residents of communities where the company already operates wind turbines. Green Development currently operates 19 wind turbines in four towns throughout the state, including Coventry, Portsmouth, Johnston and North Kingstown. Neighbors of those turbines warned their North Smithfield counterparts of the problems faced in their neighborhoods, including noise and health concerns and the difficulty of enforcing conditions they said were promised during the approval process.
“We made a mistake. We believed everything he said he would do for us and nothing has happened,” said Portsmouth resident David Souza, referring to company Chairman Mark DePasquale.
In response to the complaints, DePasquale pointed out that most of the company’s other wind projects in Rhode Island were built under different conditions or using older models than the one proposed for North Smithfield. In the case of the Portsmouth development, the turbine was built by another company and only purchased by Green Development at a later date. Johnston’s wind farm consists of three-megawatt towers, twice the size of the 1.5-megawatt turbine proposed for North Smithfield, and newer technology that will allow the company to remotely monitor and adjust the turbine’s operation has not yet been installed at the Coventry farm.
DePasquale also told board members that the speed at which the blades turn, and the noise that results, is based solely on weather conditions and is not determined by the time of day. Residents of other towns disagreed, telling the board the turbine noise becomes louder at night, with some resorting to taking sleeping pills to sleep through the noise. Renee Petrone, a Cranston resident who lives 2,000 feet from the Johnston turbines, described the noise as “a jet engine that never lands.”
Pacheco also addressed her controversial role in the project during the meeting, telling board members income from the turbine would allow her to continue her farm operation. She contested neighbor’s claims that the street was a quiet, agricultural area, reminding board members that Old Smithfield Road lies directly between two highways.
“Please don’t talk to me about rural character,” she said. “We are sandwiched in between Route 99 and Route 146. Talk about the noise.”
While the area is bordered by several major roads, the site also lies close to Woonsocket Reservoirs One and Two, which feed the public water supply for the neighboring city and parts of North Smithfield. Dowling pointed out that in 2016, when the proposal first came before the Zoning Board, the Woonsocket Water Department submitted a letter requesting the town deny the proposal on the basis of possible environmental contamination. He also argued the proposal does not comply with parts of the comprehensive plan that state new projects should be consistent with existing uses in the area, in this case a farm on a residential road.
“I don’t think that anyone can stand here with a straight face and say that that’s consistent or well integrated in any fashion,” he said.
After three hours of comment from both sides of the debate, Zoning Board members voted to once again continue the hearing until May 14 at 7 p.m. at North Smithfield Middle School.
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