Selectmen On Record With Opposition to Wind Turbine Project

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By: Diana T. Barth
Published: 10/22/10

Bourne selectmen listened to the Bournedale area residents who attended Tuesday’s meeting in force to voice their opposition to the proposed siting of seven 492-foot-high wind turbines in their neighborhood. The board then voted three to 0, with two abstaining, to send a letter to the Cape Cod Commission opposing the project, as currently proposed.

Selectmen Donald J. Pickard and Mary S. Meli abstained from the vote, each for a different reason. Unlike the abutters who filled the meeting room, their reasoning had more to do with the process than the project.

Diane C. Tillotson, attorney from Boston-based Hemenway & Barnes—who spoke this week on behalf of the Ingersoll family and Cape Cod Aggregates, principals of New Generation Wind LLC, the proponents of the project—had asked selectmen not to vote that evening.

Ms. Tillotson said New Generation Wind had brought along a noise expert, but had planned to present a broader discussion of that and other issues on November 15, when the Cape Cod Commission subcommittee meets next to review the project. She also said that the commission might place conditions or modify the project, something that both the applicant and the Bourne Planning Board could also do. She asked that selectmen wait for fuller information, and to see how the process affects the project, before coming down for or against it.

Selectmen had asked, close to the beginning of the hearing on the matter, whether their energy advisory committee had made a recommendation on the project. Bourne’s energy coordinator, Richard Elrick, said the committee had not, that it was awaiting the results of the commission review before weighing-in.

Mr. Pickard said that if the town wanted its committees to continue to do the yeoman’s work that they do, the board had to listen to them. He wanted to defer any vote until he heard that committee’s recommendation. He felt the vote was premature.

Ms. Meli had a slightly different take. Selectmen began their evening before 7 PM in executive session to discuss litigation, followed by a sewer commissioner’s meeting. Then, they worked through their meeting agenda until they reached the wind turbine forum. By the time Jamie J. Sloniecki said he thought it was his duty to take a stand, and moved to oppose the project, it was late. In fact, the meeting room was not empty until after 11 PM.

The language of the motion, as it morphed under discussion, was difficult to follow. As ultimately passed, it read, “The Board of Selectmen are opposed to the wind turbine project and location as proposed by New Generation Wind, and directs that the Town’s Representative to the Cape Cod Commission bring a written letter depicting the Board’s position to the Commission for their review.”

Ms. Meli abstained from voting because she was concerned that the motion, as she had heard it, could be interpreted to mean that selectmen opposed locating any turbines on the 400-plus acre site.

In fact, when one of the selectmen had asked whether people would accept, say, turbines of 350 feet, located 2,500 feet from the nearest home, several audience members were vehement in saying no.

Ms. Meli, however, did not want to go on record in opposition to any and all turbines on the site. She said the board might want to change its vote if the project changed.

After the meeting, Chairman John A. Ford Jr., said he interpreted the board’s action as opposition to the project, as proposed.

Mr. Sloniecki said, in making his motion, that he thought the area was not suitable for turbines as large as those proposed. He carefully let the public know that he was friends with the developer of Pilgrim Pines, a not-as-yet fully built-out residential subdivision in the area, and had heard his friend’s concerns over the affect the wind turbines might have on real estate. Although that, and how the turbines would look from the Bourne Bridge and from busy Scenic Highway, concerned him, he said his major concern revolved around the fact that he was not convinced that continual exposure to turbine sound did not impact health.

Selectman Stephen F. Mealy said he became convinced that selectmen needed to vote on the measure when he heard from the abutters’ unofficial spokesman, project opponent J. Hendrik Leuke of Mirasol Drive, who brought in a PowerPoint presentation cataloging neighbors’ concerns. What Mr. Leuke said that stuck in Mr. Mealy’s mind was that he had purchased his home just a few months before he heard about the project, and had he known a project of this magnitude was coming, he would never have bought in the area.

Mr. Mealy said he felt it was incumbent on the board to speak out on behalf of the residents.

Mr. Ford echoed Mr. Mealy’s sentiments.

At the beginning of Tuesday evening’s forum, Ms. Tillotson had told selectmen that Bourne’s wind turbine bylaw had very strong provisions concerning noise. If a wind turbine were to violate either the town’s or the state’s noise standards, it could be shut down until the noise level was in compliance.

Mr. Leuke, who said after he spoke at the first Cape Cod Commission subcommittee hearing last month that he had just heard about the project four days before and had been gathering information about turbines on the Internet, had compiled information on a number of studies that he presented to selectmen.

Most of that information focused not just on the audible “swish swish” of a turbine’s blades, but on the low-frequency sound and ultra low-frequency “infrasound” generated by a turbine’s motor. He and other neighbors said that no one knew what exposure to those sounds might do over time, but pointed to concerns raised by studies conducted in both the United States and Europe.

Mr. Leuke also showed pictures gleaned online, demonstrating shadow flicker, as well as photos of both turbine fires and failures, which, although rare, were, he said, possible.

After his presentation, the proponents’ expert, Dr. Robert J. McCunney, spoke. Dr. McCunney is a staff physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, a clinical faculty member at Harvard Medical School, and a research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He served on a joint American Wind Energy Association/Canadian Wind Energy Association panel to study the health effects of wind turbine noise, something, he told selectmen, did not mean that he was a wind turbine proponent.

He and a group of other scientists and experts were asked to take a close look at all of the information available on the effect of wind turbine noise on health and had looked at peer-reviewed studies conducted in Europe elsewhere.

He said that the group’s review found no reliable evidence that infrasounds below the hearing threshold produce either physical or psychological effects. However, people living near turbines have complained of stress, headaches, sleep deprivation, and other symptoms. Dr. McCunney said those symptoms were most likely traced to the undeniably audible sound of a turbine’s blades swishing through the air. He said, too, that whether one had difficulty with those sounds is linked, statistically, to whether a person is predisposed to dislike the looks or presence of the turbines. People can be equally annoyed by traffic or other noise, he said.

Once the meeting was open to public comment, some of the more than 75 people crammed into the room took their turn to let selectmen know how they felt.

One Mirasol Drive resident called for “common sense,” saying approving turbines 200 feet taller than the top of the Bourne Bridge was not sensible. Such turbines do not belong anywhere near residential neighborhoods, he said.

Another speaker commented that the turbines were a for-profit proposition, and would not benefit the townspeople directly.

Several other residents said they went online, or visited local turbines such as the ones on the military reservation or at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, but could find none comparable in size on shore, or in-state.

Mitchell McClain of Cutter Sound Drive said the nearest place he found similarly sized machines to those proposed was in the Pocono Mountains. He had, he said, gone to see the 350-foot-high turbine in Falmouth and found it audible from 1,000 feet away.

Tudor G. (Jerry) Ingersoll, a resident and member of New Generation Wind LLC, said that Paul O’Keefe, a member of the town’s energy advisory committee and one of those responsible for maintaining the maritime academy’s turbine, had explained that the older MMA turbine, although smaller than the ones proposed, made about the same amount of sound as the new ones being proposed for Bournedale.

Ms. Tillotson said, after most of the audience comments had been made, that Mr. Ingersoll had grandchildren attending Bournedale Elementary School, and would not put them in harm’s way.

Among the comments made by selectmen was an acknowledgement that, when they endorsed the town’s wind turbine bylaw, several members had not contemplated the possibility of its allowing for the clustering of large, commercial-sized wind turbines in Bourne.

The Bourne Committee will be holding an informational forum on the project at 8 AM Wednesday at Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School, for those who would like to learn the details of the proposed project.

The next Cape Cod Commission subcommittee hearing is set for 6 PM on Monday, November 15, in the Bourne High School auditorium.

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