The Falmouth Select Board has unanimously granted three temporary right-to-entry agreements to Mayflower Wind, allowing the energy company to conduct geotechnical borings near Surf Drive Beach and Falmouth Heights Beach.
“The right to enter is only temporary, and at most, would only allow them to explore possibilities,” Town Manager Julian M. Suso told the board on Monday, November 9.
The approval gives Mayflower Wind 180 days to conduct two exploratory borings at the beach parking lots to support its planning and design for a possible landfall for its submarine cables. Mayflower Wind, a joint venture between Shell and Ocean Winds, is developing a wind farm approximately 30 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.
“The cables would continue underground, under the beach, and then surface a bit inland,” Seth Kaplan of Mayflower Wind said. “That is done through the use of horizontal directional drilling, a technique that is well known in Falmouth. It is how the cables were brought in from the Vineyard and how the town connected the relatively new water treatment facility to Long Pond off Gifford [Street].”
The board received 70 emails regarding the agreement, 37 of which were in favor and 25 were opposed. Others had general comments.
A common concern is related to the health and environmental impacts of the underground cables.
“As a long-time Falmouth Heights resident, I am very concerned with the short and long term health and safety effects of the high voltage cables beneath the sand for Heights families who have been using this beach for decades,” wrote Frank and Geraldine Ryan of Worcester Court, requesting less-densely populated areas like West or North Falmouth be considered for landfall.
John and Nancy Erikson of Grand Avenue wrote, “Mayflower Wind has not provided any information on the health effects of the proposed cable to residents of the area,” and asked why tests would be allowed without knowing the risks.
Dave Buzanoski, president of the Falmouth Heights-Maravista Neighborhood Association, wanted answers as well.
“In any case, with respect to Mayflower’s Cable Project, as a representative of the Falmouth Heights/Maravista community, we maintain our previously expressed request that the entire Falmouth public be fully informed, particularly as to the safety and health risks associated with such project and further that no decisions be undertaken until such time that serious public concerns can be allayed,” Mr. Buzanoski wrote.
Several emails referenced EMFs, the electromagnetic fields that radiate from powerlines.
“We urge you not allow testing at this site which could result in the placement of this radiation emitting cable that would harm this fragile beach area,” the Eriksons wrote. “Families are swimming in the water, lying on the beach, walking down the green. This is a resort community, we depend on tourism, please do not jeopardize this beautiful beach with this cable, no matter how much they downplay the radiation profile at the water, beach and roadway.”
Peter A. Valberg, principal of Gradient, environmental and risk sciences consulting, said the electromagnetic fields generated by buried cables fall well below the magnetic field health-based guidelines recommended by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.
“One of the characteristics of electric and magnetic fields from transmission lines, and underground lines in particular, is the fields drop off dramatically with distance,” Dr. Valberg said. “Therefore, if you want to know where the location of the highest field is, that would be directly over any kind of underground transmission lines or, if you are on a utility right-of-way with overhead lines, then the highest fields would be directly under those lines.”
A study by Gradient shows someone standing directly above a cable duct bank in the roadway would be exposed to a less-than-500-milligauss electromagnetic field. ICNIRP guidelines set the exposure limit at 2,000 mG. A person standing over the underground cables on the beach would be exposed to less than 10 mG.
“In fact, because these fields drop off dramatically with distance, if you’re at a random location in the parking lot, it’s probably true that you can’t even detect the presence of the underground lines,” Dr. Valberg said. “You’d have to move over and stand on top of the underground route if you were to try to use a measuring instrument to determine what the fields were.”
In addition to being buried approximately three feet beneath the road and approximately 30 feet beneath the beach, the cables would be shielded. Board member Samuel H. Patterson said this shielding creates a Faraday cage, which blocks electromagnetic fields.
“Whenever you put any kind of a current inside of a conducting shield, if you will, then none of those fields escape that conducting shield,” Mr. Patterson said.
Dr. Valberg addressed a question asking if the electromagnetic fields could increase the risk of childhood cancer. He said this was studied extensively in the 1970s and 1980s.
“The bottom line of all those [studies] is they didn’t find any potential effects,” he said.
Using people working at power plants or a generating station as an example, Dr. Valberg said higher levels of exposure can have an effect, but not at the level generated by these underground cables.
“I feel confident that the concern people are expressing is not going to be warranted,” he said.
Mr. Patterson agreed, noting the cables operate at a low-frequency variation of 60 cycles per second.
It has never been shown to do any kind of damage to chemistry or cell structures, he said. “Electromagnetic fields are very different at different frequencies. Take a look at microwaves. A microwave oven can heat up and cook food, it can even break down organic structures, but those frequencies are tens of thousands of times higher than the 60 cycles that power our houses and all of our electric devices.”
Noting a number of email comments came from Falmouth Heights residents, board member Douglas C. Brown said it would be a shame to disturb that recently improved area with new curbing and green space on Worcester Court. Mr. Kaplan said any areas disturbed by the installation would be restored.
“A lot of time and effort has gone into making that beautiful, and I understand that,” he said. “The thing I can commit to you is that when we are done, it will be better than when we first touch it, in terms of being able to restore and make some improvements to the area. We have no intention of leaving anything worse off than we find it. Site restoration is a critical part of construction.”
The cables would eventually connect to an onshore substation. The location of the substation is to be determined.
“Definitively, we can say it is not going to be on the beach,” Mr. Kaplan said. “It is not going to be in one of the beach neighborhoods. It will be in an appropriate space further inland.”
A possible location for the substation is 565 Blacksmith Shop Road, East Falmouth, the town’s yard waste and composting site. The select board authorized a right-to-entry agreement for this location, as well. Mr. Kaplan said Mayflower Wind will measure current ambient background noise and take pictures there.
“One of the things we will need to do is model the noise, which we cannot do until we have designed the facility, the substation and know where it is,” he said, noting that electronic substations make a humming noise.
If Mayflower Wind were to install a substation at the Blacksmith Shop site, it would need to know the current sound levels in order to comply with noise regulations. The company would comply with all noise requirements when installing the underground cables.
The cables will not produce any noise, as they sit buried underground, Mr. Kaplan said.
He said the three right-to-entry agreements “do not commit the town to any further commitment to pursue the project.” The agreements allow Mayflower Wind to collect data to see if any of the three locations are feasible.
Mayflower Wind also agreed to fund an independent consultant to work on the town’s behalf. Board member Nancy R. Taylor said the consultant will be hired by the town for the benefit of the town.
“From the very beginning, we insisted that the consultant be totally independent, that we choose the consultant and that the consultant answers only to us,” Town Counsel Frank K. Duffy said.
Several of those emailing the select board argued Mayflower Wind did not provide notice to abutters before seeking the right-to-entry agreements.
“The majority of neighbors, that I have spoken to in the last several days, had no idea of the activity that Mayflower was doing or even proposing,” wrote Greg Mazmanian of Miami Avenue. “While there was some limited information in the Enterprise in September, we have not been appraised of the boring request and much less of the overall project and its potential impact to our neighborhoods.”
Mr. Duffy said right-of-entry agreements do not require abutter notices. In addition, since the project location has not been finalized, he said it is not clear who the abutters will be if underground cables are installed in Falmouth.
“We don’t really know who the abutters are, so there is no abutter notice,” he said.
Mr. Brown said people knew about the meeting, noting the number of emails received related to the proposal, including a number in favor of granting the right-to-enter agreements.
“I think people were aware that this was happening and were before the board tonight,” he said.
Noting Falmouth Town Meeting recently declared a climate emergency, Margaret G. Collins of Loop Road wrote, and “Denying this permit would suggest a certain hollowness to that climate emergency declaration. Our town must be willing to be part of the complex system of technology and infrastructure that dealing with the climate crisis will require.”
Other letters of support came from Green Seal Environmental founder Gregory C. Wirsen, Falmouth Energy Committee chairwoman Megan C. Amsler, Falmouth Climate Action Network member Robert M. Gould and Christopher M. Lynch of the Lawrence-Lynch Corp.