Town Meeting Sends Mixed Messages On How To Proceed With Wind Turbines
By: Christopher Kazarian
If selectmen were expecting to receive direction from Town Meeting on what to do with the two town-owned wind turbines at the Wastewater Treatment Facility, they were wrong.
Town Meeting only served to further complicate the ongoing turbine controversy last night by voting in favor of Article 23—asking the board to shut the machines down until November—and then less than an hour later it passed the opposing Article 27—supporting the board’s current plan of action to build consensus toward finding a solution on what to do with the machines and how best to address abutters’ concerns.
After that second vote, a puzzled Town Moderator David T. Vieira said, “I would like to be quite honest. For those of you who voted for the previous article on the turbine and voted for this article, I would be very interested for you to share with me the reason after the meeting.”
That led Richard K. Latimer, Precinct Two, to step up to the lectern in an attempt to provide an explanation, only to be chastised by Mr. Vieira.
“Sit down, Richard,” he yelled, as Mr. Latimer continued to talk. Mr. Vieira then banged his gavel, yelling even louder, “I asked you to sit down.”
Mr. Vieira then, perhaps out of frustration with the four-day length of Town Meeting and the discussion and votes that had transpired, asked F. Bradley Stumcke Jr., the chairman of the charter review committee, to schedule a second meeting with him, because “I would like to discuss some things.”
Town Meeting Tension
"To profit from other people’s misery is absolutely wrong, even if it’s just one person... These machines should be shut down at least until November Town Meeting."
- Linda Whitehead
The exchange between Mr. Latimer and Mr. Latimer was topped by another the previous night, shortly after Town Meeting took up Article 23.
That occurred as David R. Moriarty, Precinct Six, launched into a tirade, beginning by saying, “I’ve spent the last five years of my life trying to warn you people about the effects of the wind turbines...This was never going to work. It was done for profit.”
He then went on to say that the town was “hoodwinked by the professionals,” namely the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, which is now the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. He also placed blame on Governor Deval L. Patrick, terming this Mr. Patrick’s “Willie Horton,” in reference to the prisoner who was granted a weekend furlough in 1986 under former governor Michael S. Dukakis’s watch and never returned. A year later, Mr. Horton was arrested after assaulting and raping a woman in Maryland.
“Point of order,” Helen E. Gordon, Precinct Eight, yelled after Mr. Moriarty made the analogy, leading to a shouting match between her and Mr. Vieira.
Ms. Gordon said she was both concerned with the time, as the meeting was closing in on 11 PM and she wanted to make a motion for continuing the discussion while also raising issues with speakers being sidetracked. “It is hard for me when we are here for three nights and people are not sticking to the point,” she said.
Mr. Vieira reminded Town Meeting that a point of order should only be used “when I did something wrong procedurally.”
Drummey Claims Turbine Violates Sound Bylaws
Discussion on Article 23 began at 10 PM on Wednesday when Todd A. Drummey, Precinct Eight, presented data from a study he conducted three separate nights last month, in which he measured sound from Wind 1. Results showed the turbine’s noise was well over the 40-decibel limit permitted in the town’s bylaws. Additionally, he said, he found that the turbine’s sound levels represented a 10-decibel increase over ambient noise, violating Department of Environmental Protection regulations.
His claims were first called into question by Joseph L. Hackler, Precinct Eight. “Most of us never hear anything less than 40 decibels,” he said.
Mr. Hackler defended the turbines, calling them part of “a fantastic facility” and pointed out that those opposing the machines have one goal. “My understanding is the opponents’ position is they just want them gone,” he said, as some in the rear of the auditorium yelled out, “Correct.”
“It is totally understandable,” he continued. “But I think we should be more open-minded to meet all the goals of the town.”
Last night Anastasia K. Karplus, Precinct Two, also raised concerns about Mr. Drummey’s study. “We should not make a decision based on evidence that has not been reviewed and on information that may not be completely accurate,” she said.
And she also deflected the notion that selectmen and town officials had been “bamboozled or were following a yellow brick road to nowhere. They were thinking fiscally, thinking environmentally and in terms of improving our health.”
She defended the goals that town officials were trying to achieve when considering the turbines in 2004. They were not “simply looking to grab a pot of money, as has been intimated,” she said.
She was one of several who called on Town Meeting to support the selectmen as they work to find a compromise with neighbors.
Selectmen Vote Curtailment of Turbines
In an attempt to do so, on Monday evening, the board voted in favor of a temporary plan through the end of the fiscal year that would shut down Wind 1 through May 15, when wind speeds reach 10 meters per second. Wind 2 would be operated with an increased “cut in speed” from 3.5 meters per second to 8 meters per second from the hours of midnight to 3 AM. From May 15 to June 30, the turbines would additionally be shut down from 10 PM to 6 AM.
Abutters to the turbines never showed support for that plan.
Whether a compromise can be reached between town officials and wind turbine opponents is unclear as Assistant Town Manager Heather B. Harper spoke to the hostile environment in town concerning the topic. “I felt insecure for my own safety based on the communication I’ve received, as well as the comprehensive global campaign to vilify the Town of Falmouth,” she said.
Wednesday night Kathryn L. Elder, Precinct Six, called on Town Meeting to turn off the turbines to “prevent further harm.”
She was critical of selectmen who had promised to work with neighbors of the turbine shortly after reaching a compromise on a similar article calling for the turbines to be shut down temporarily at Town Meeting in November. Since then, she said, there has “not been a dialogue between selectmen and the neighbors.” The board, she added, has refused to permit public comment when discussing the turbines at its meetings.
Asking for Town Meeting’s support, she said, “the turbines have destroyed our quality of life. They have disrupted our sleep and driven us from the haven of our homes.”
Public Backlash Against Turbines
She received the backing of Linda D. Whitehead, Precinct One, who chastised town officials for siting the two 1.65-megawatt wind turbines so close to residents on Wednesday. “To profit from other people’s misery is absolutely wrong, even if it’s just one person,” she said. “These machines should be shut down at least until November Town Meeting.”
Last night Linda H. Tobey, Precinct Four, said she had lost faith in selectmen for not working with abutters after promising to do so last fall. “If we shut off the turbines, maybe something could be done,” she said.
“That the turbines are causing health issues on Craggy Ridge should be enough to turn them off,” said Charles E. Eastman Jr., Precinct Six. “It is not right that people cannot enjoy their homes, work in their yards and do what everyone else is entitled to do on their properties.”
Those like Mr. Eastman, living near the turbines, gained a brief victory when Town Meeting voted to pass Article 23 in a standing vote, with 100 in favor and 75 opposed, leading Colin P. Murphy of Precinct Six to yell, “My kids can sleep tonight. Thank you” from the back of the auditorium.
But the victory was short-lived, when Town Meeting less than an hour later passed Article 27 with 93 in favor and 74 opposed, after many supporting Article 23 had left.
Before the vote was taken, Selectman Brent V.W. Putnam asked Town Meeting to vote the article down, as his board was looking for guidance. If both articles passed, he said, it would leave selectmen “with a schizophrenic feeling” and unsure of which way to go. “If we can go along with IP [indefinite postponement], it will focus our energy and give us direction,” he said.
The next chapter in the wind turbine saga will take place on Thursday, when the Consensus Building Institute of Cambridge holds a public session at the Falmouth Public Library at 7 PM, to go over its report in which it interviewed 53 stakeholders to determine how best to arrive at a long-term strategy regarding the turbines.