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Newburyport council likely to reject wind turbine proposal

NEWBURYPORT – The City Council’s Committee on Planning & Development and the Planning Board each voted Wednesday night to recommend against moving forward with a proposal to amend zoning to allow for wind turbines along the old Interstate 95 access road.

The committee voted 3-0 and the Planning Board vote was 6-0. Planning Board Chair Bonnie Sontag and members Leah McGavern and Anne Gardner were absent for the public hearing.

The vote effectively moved the proposal out of committee with the recommendation that the full council vote against the proposal at its next meeting Sept. 27 at 7:30 p.m. A zoning amendment would require eight of the 11 councilors to support the proposal.

Councilor at large Barry Connell, who sponsored the ordinance, addressed 25 issues on Wednesday night that he noted from conversations with residents who live near the site.

Those issues included the potential environmental impact, quality-of-life concerns, shadow flickering from the spinning wind turbine blades, maintenance of turbines, the construction timeline and whether developers were actually ready to bid.

After speaking to many of these matters, Connell said, “I think this is a constrained site. It’s not an ideal site.”

Still, the councilor wanted to pursue the conversation of green energy in the city.

“If not this technology, what technology?” he asked.

The proposed site is adjacent to I-95 and sits behind the Oleo Woods residential neighborhood and the Little River Trail System.

Many Oleo Woods residents sent emails to the council, strongly opposing the idea and calling for discussion of the proposal to end immediately.

On Wednesday, nearly a dozen residents shared their concerns about the potential impact on their neighborhood and suggested alternatives for promoting green energy in the city.

Several spoke of feeling the process was rushed and are worried about any change to the area’s zoning without first conducting feasibility studies.

Across the board, residents said they are not opposed to green energy efforts but are against this proposal, especially due to the impact on wildlife and wetlands.

Ward 5 Councilor Jim McCauley said rezoning conservation land would “set a dangerous precedent.”

As a Storeybrooke Drive resident, he said the buffer of trees between his neighborhood and Interstate 95 is “critical” in terms of noise and pollution.

McCauley said he recognized that Oleo Woods residents feel the same way.

If this zoning were approved, trees and other vegetation would need to be removed to create space for a wind turbine project.

After detailing other concerns such as shadow flickering and the impact on wildlife, McCauley said ultimately, he doesn’t think “Ward 5 residents have anything to gain” from this proposal.

Ward 4 Councilor Christine Wallace worried about encroachment on open space, as well as the impact on neighbors’ quality of life.

With the limitations of the property and the amount of wetlands needing protection, a main concern raised by councilors and Planning Board members was how much space there would actually be for wind turbines on this land.

Connell said he spoke to a few developers who said they would not find it worth it to pursue a project if the space would only allow for one wind turbine.

It’s not clear how many wind turbines would be able to fit on this land, but the consensus from city officials was that this was not worth pursuing any further.

Council President Jared Eigerman, who represents Ward 2, said zoning is all about, “Does it serve the general welfare?” and for him, this proposal would not benefit the whole community.

More on the proposal can be found at www.cityofnewburyport.com/planning-board/agenda-items/wind-energy-facilities-and-towers-along-i-95.