Turbine Hits Turbulence
By: Christopher Kazarian
The noise being generated by the town’s wind turbine at the Wastewater Treatment Plant on Blacksmith Shop Road may be nothing when compared to the noise generated by a group of disgruntled residents living nearby who are upset about how the machine has impacted their quality of life.
Described as making a noise similar to the sound of a jet hovering over one’s property, the machine has not only caused sleepless nights for some and affected residents’ health but also potentially impacted their homes’ property values. Those were some of their arguments yesterday during a planning session held at Annie Hart Cool’s home on Fire Tower Road.
A total of 17 residents showed up, some from as far away as Harwich and Wellfleet, where town officials in those communities rejected proposals for wind turbines based upon opposition from property owners.
Planning for the first municipally owned turbine in the state began in Falmouth roughly seven years ago as a recommendation by the Falmouth Energy Committee. Early plans called for a 660-kilowatt turbine to be sited at the treatment facility, but that size increased to 1.65-megawatt in the fall of 2006 after Orleans shelved its plans to install two Vestas turbines in that Lower Cape town. That made the Orleans’ turbines, which had already been ordered, available to Falmouth.
Town Meeting overwhelmingly passed several articles related to the first wind turbine, which was erected in November and became operational on March 23. Construction on a second wind turbine, paid for by roughly
$5.8 million in federal stimulus money, has already begun and it is expected to be running by September.
But last night those at Ms. Cool’s home discussed ways to stop the second one from going up and ways to bring the first one down. They discussed potentially hiring a lawyer to represent them and ways to bring their fight to the public, drumming up support among the community to help convince town officials that the turbines are not only a nuisance, but a problem when sited so close to homes.
Todd A. Drummey of Blacksmith Shop Road warned those in attendance to be prepared for a backlash of public sentiment against them, mentioning that he and his wife were harassed two years ago to the extent that two dead snakes were left on their lawn when they opposed the wind turbine currently being erected at the Falmouth Technology Park by Notus Clean Energy. “A lot of people thought we were crazy and drove by me saying I didn’t know anything,” he said.
Neil P. Andersen of Blacksmith Shop Road said he has filed a zoning complaint with the building department that the turbine is a health hazard, as well as a nuisance.
Yesterday afternoon, his wife, Elizabeth L. Andersen, spoke over the phone about how the turbine has impacted the couple who have lived on the road for 20 years. “As soon as it turned on, it became a nightmare,”
she said. “We are having trouble with hearing these days and trouble sleeping. It is driving the neighbors crazy.”
While she is supportive of green technology—she said her husband started one of the first solar construction businesses in Falmouth, People Learning and Applying New Techniques and Solar Energy (PLANTSE)—she was concerned that the turbine is too close to residents’ homes.
“I’ve never had a problem with turbines,” she said, before adding that “this is hurting us. Now it is a non-stop jet noise... I call it turbine torture.”
Ms. Cool, a realtor, said there have been reports in some communities where large-scale wind turbines have been erected, such as in Vinalhaven, Maine, that property values have decreased by 40 to 60 percent.
“Are they [the town] liable for that 40 percent or do we eat it?” asked Colin P. Murphy of Blacksmith Shop Road, complaining that the town is making a $200,000 per year profit from the turbine at the expense of the homeowners in the area.
Among the studies the group suggested doing was finding out the financial impacts that erecting a wind turbine have on nearby real estate as well as potentially hiring a sound engineer to record the levels generated by the machine.
Ms. Cool said the situation has become so bad that her husband, Mark J.
Cool, an air traffic controller, has been looking to move elsewhere.
After a stressful day at work, she said, he had enjoyed coming home to work in the garden for the past 16 years, but can no longer do so because of the loud noise.
“He doesn’t need this stress beating down on him,” she said. “I thought this was my retirement home.”
Maura K. Condrick of Wellfleet said she, like many others who move to the Cape, came here to escape the noise associated with urban centers.
When she found out her town was planning to erect a turbine on the National Seashore, she was upset.
“The idea it [the noise] was going to follow me here was maddening,” she said. “For the town to impose this on all of you is insane.”
“They took away the reason we moved here,” Kathryn L. Elder of Blacksmith Shop Road said.
This week the town has taken steps to address the issue, Falmouth Town Manager Robert L. Whritenour Jr. said this morning. “We are very anxious to work with the community on this and take the issue of the sound from the turbine very seriously,” he said.
He said his office has received six complaints and that the town has worked with Vestas’s engineering division, which sent down a team of technicians to conduct tests to see if adjustments are possible. He was hopeful that preliminary results of those tests would be available today.
As to whether the turbine is too close to homes, Mr. Whritenour said the siting process was a long and thorough one. “I think the site we have is one of the best sites for that type of a facility,” he said.
His office has asked residents who are experiencing issues with the noise to document the type of sound they are hearing and the time of day it occurs. That data, he said, will be useful to assist the engineers as they attempt to correct the problem.
But last night, many did not believe that town officials, including selectmen, care about how the turbine is affecting their lives. Mr. Murphy, who has voiced complaints to Assistant Town Manager Heather B. Harper, said she lives in Mashpee “so this doesn’t affect anything she does.”
They also suggested that the turbine, which was slowed yesterday and emitting minimal noise, would be kept that way until the election. Those from Falmouth said this would impact how they vote on Tuesday.
While she did not attend last night’s meeting, planning board member Patricia H. Kerfoot of Ransom Road, was sympathetic to what residents in the West Falmouth neighborhood are going through. She lives across from the Woods Hole Research Center, which erected a 100-kilowatt turbine in the fall.
“I have nothing against wind energy, but since it started up in our neighborhood—I understand the leaves came off and the air got colder and denser—but I don’t hear anything but a ‘whup, whup, whup, whup,” she said. “The neighbor next door can’t even open the windows it is so loud.”
She said her hope is that before the town sites any more turbines, more study will be done, not only on noise, but issues like the shadows created by the sun hitting the blades, known as the flicker affect.
She has never issued a formal complaint but has voiced her displeasure at her board’s meeting on occasion. She said it can be troubling when a machine like this appears near an established neighborhood like hers or the one on Blacksmith Shop Road.
On Monday night, those on Blacksmith Shop Road plan to take their fight to selectmen even though they are not on the agenda. While Ms. Cool said it may be a little too late to affect change at the treatment facility, she was hopeful that the one good to come from this is that this will not happen to other property owners in other parts of town in the future.
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