The COVID-19 pandemic that has surged in the state is stalling any resolution of the issues between residents and the owners of the windmills bordering Bourne and Plymouth. The Plymouth Board of Health, which has jurisdiction over the situation, said the owners of the windmills have insisted on an in-person hearing relative to the windmills. The coronavirus, the chairman of the board said, has made an in-person hearing impossible.
Barry W. Potvin is the chairman of the Plymouth Board of Health.
In March, before the state shutdown due to the pandemic, the board labeled the windmills “a public nuisance.” At the time, the health board also said it would gather information on the rules, regulations, bylaws and health effects of wind turbines.
Residents of both Plymouth and Bourne have complained for years that the turbines are too loud and their operation has jeopardized public health. Members of the Buzzards Bay Citizens Action Committee have cited noise and flickering lights as disrupting their health and peace of mind since the windmills went into operation in 2016.
In an emailed response, Mr. Potvin said the board has done “extensive research on the matter including a review of documentation regarding the permitting process and associated studies of noise levels.”
Mr. Potvin said the Plymouth board has corresponded with the windmill owners, Consolidated Edison Inc. The energy company, he said, has insisted that the board’s description of the windmills as “a public nuisance” be rescinded. The company has also insisted on an in-person hearing in front of the board of health to defend the windmills.
Con Edison noted that such a hearing was given to the Buzzards Bay Citizens Action Coalition, which allowed the group to voice its continued opposition to operation of the windmills. Con Edison, Mr. Potvin said, has threatened legal action if the health board takes action before any such hearing.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed our ability to schedule the requested in-person hearing with Con Edison,” he said, “but the declaration of public nuisance remains in effect.”
Mr. Potvin said he is aware that the blades on one of the windmills have been taken down. They were removed, he said, as part of necessary repairs. He added that Con Edison also failed to respond to the Plymouth board’s written request to cease operation of the turbines until the pandemic eases.
Residents who live near the turbines have complained about sleep deprivation caused by the sound of the spinning blades and nervous disorders from the shadow flicker when the blades spin during the day. Other ailments cited by residents include headaches, increased blood pressure, breathing problems, hearing loss and vertigo.
A lawsuit concerning the turbines was heard in Barnstable Superior Court four years ago. In a ruling dated April 8, 2016, 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, the Bourne Board of Health has no jurisdiction.
The judge based his ruling on the Bourne health board’s own wind energy conversion system regulations that state that no one can build such a system in Bourne unless it is in compliance with the regulations. Judge Nickerson ruled, though, that the regulations do not authorize the board of health to regulate the construction of wind turbines in Plymouth.
In his ruling, however, Judge Nickerson said the Bourne health board has “broad powers to regulate and prevent nuisances that affect public health.” His ruling ended with the proviso that the board of health might have future legal recourse to combat a nuisance to the town and its residents.
At a meeting in October 2018, the Bourne health board voted unanimously to send a letter to town officials in Plymouth and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. The letter did not contest the permitting of the turbines but cited the windmills as a nuisance that interfered with residents’ abilities to live their lives.
During that meeting, Bourne health board chairwoman Kathleen M. Peterson told members of the Buzzards Bay Citizens Action Committee that the letter would claim the turbines violate Bourne’s nuisance law by interfering with public health and residents’ enjoyment of life and property.
“I think that’s going to be strong enough that they have to address us, and they’ll have to address you,” Ms. Peterson said.
However, until the Plymouth Board of Health is able to hold in-person meetings again, Mr. Potvin said, the matter of the wind turbines cannot be pursued further. For the immediate future, he said, the board of health is devoting all its time and effort to combating the COVID-19 crisis.
“I know how much the nearby residents have had to endure and wish that we weren’t faced with doing all that we can to battle this brutal disease that has taken many lives and sickened so many more,” he said.
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