Lawmakers waded back into a battle waged for years between environmentalists who want to shorten the permitting process for smaller wind energy projects and residents who say their health suffers from living near a turbine.
During a legislative hearing Tuesday, residents who live near turbines accused environmental activists of persistently pushing legislation to make it easier to permit land-based wind energy projects without acknowledging health effects. Environmentalists argued benefits of the renewable energy outweigh some of the negative impacts.
George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, told lawmakers on the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee they need to have the political will to pass legislation streamlining the permitting process.
“Wind energy is the future,” he said. “And to think that progress in this area can come without any harm is a misconception.”
Bachrach argued that when highways were built some people were hurt when they lost property, but there was “overall common good.”
“Somehow there is this notion in Massachusetts that we cannot build wind energy unless no one is hurt,” he said.
Two bills before the committee (H 2980 and S 1591), filed by Rep. Frank Smizik and Sen. Barry Finegold, would institute comprehensive siting reform for land-based wind projects.
Similar legislation made it all the way through the House in 2010, but the Senate failed to finish work on the bill. Senators in favor of it attempted to get it passed during informal sessions, but it was repeatedly blocked by opponents during that summer.
Supporters of that bill, including the Patrick administration, said it would have helped expedite wind-based turbine projects while preserving the ability of municipalities to reject unwanted projects. No one from the Patrick administration testified on the bills Tuesday.
During the hearing, some opponents argued Massachusetts is too densely populated to allow wind turbines to be built anywhere on land.
Residents from Falmouth who live near a wind facility urged lawmakers not to pass the bill.
Neil Anderson, a Falmouth resident who lives one quarter-mile away from a turbine, described his suffering. Along with headaches, Anderson said he has trouble concentrating and memory loss. He said he has to leave his house when the winds are high.
“My life has been torn upside down. All I do now is fight wind turbines,” he said.
Anderson refuted claims by some environmentalists who say the wind turbines do not cause health problems.
“They just don’t have a clue about what is going on,” Anderson said. “This is about massive wind generators that are just too close.”
Anderson argued that Massachusetts is too densely populated for turbines to be sited anywhere in the state. “They don’t belong anywhere in Massachusetts,” he said.
He invited lawmakers to sit on his front porch and “see what these turbines can do.”
“Maybe one of you will get a headache, start feeling the pressure in your ears, because it’s real,” Anderson said.
In January 2012, an independent report commissioned by the Patrick administration concluded that wind turbines present little more than an "annoyance" to residents and that limited evidence exists to support claims of devastating health impacts. Falmouth and western Massachusetts residents argued at the time that the report was biased and based on "cherry-picked" information that ignored the real-world impact of turbines.
Smizik, a Democrat from Brookline who chairs the House Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, said current law favors large fossil fuel plants because only energy plants larger than 100 megawatts can go to the Energy Facilities Siting Board for a consolidated permit. Land-based facilities tend to be much smaller, so they do not have the “luxury” of the fast-tracked permitting option available to fossil fuel plants.
Smizik said the legislation he filed would streamline the process for on-shore wind energy only if the project met strict public safety and environmental standards.
“This bill does not give special interest to the wind energy industry, it just levels the playing field,” Smizik said.
The legislation establishes clear standards and timely and predictable permitting procedures, Smizik said, reducing the time and cost for wind projects.
Smizik said the legislation does not take away local control, something opponents contend it does. There is opportunity for public input, he said.
Rep. Timothy Madden, a Democrat from Nantucket, opposed the bill, saying it takes away a “great deal” of local control.
“My opposition on this bill has not changed over the last several years,” Madden said.
Madden filed a bill (H 2957) that would allow coastal communities to create exclusion zones for wind turbine development.
Smizik said one area of opportunity for wind energy that is being missed is in agricultural land. Farmers struggling to maintain viable farmlands could develop wind farms on their land as a way to power farms and increase profits by selling the energy, he said.
Michael Parry, a sheep farmer who owns 220 acres in Shelburne, said he would never put a wind facility on his property after researching the effects of turbines.
“I would never subject our neighbors to that. I wouldn’t subject my family to that, and I wouldn’t subject my livestock to that,” he said.
Parry mentioned a wind facility located near a dairy farm in Glenmore, Wisconsin where the farmer reported reduced milk production from his cows after the turbines went up. Parry said he favors renewable energy, but feels environmentalists are pushing projects before the impacts are understood.
By Shujie Leng BU Washington News Service WASHINGTON — Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-South Boston, Tuesday afternoon asked the director of Federal Emergency Management Agency to delay a rate increase arising from recently enacted flood insurance legislation…
A $12.1 billion transportation bond bill emerged from committee Wednesday filled with spending authorizations for projects favored by Gov. Deval Patrick though with a lower overall price tag and shorter term than the governor’s bill.
The five-year bill includes $175 million for rail links between Pittsfield and New York City, Worcester and Springfield, as well as Boston and Cape Cod, along with $2.2 billion for the South Coast Rail to New Bedford and Fall River, $1.3 billion for the Green Line extension, $2.5 billion for trains and buses, and $300 million for a South Station expansion that’s critical to efforts to increase commuter rail capacity.
Patrick and Transportation Secretary Richard Davey had pushed for a $1.9 billion tax bill earlier this year to fund transportation and education, and wound up with roughly $340 million in new taxes this summer.
“This is a project spending level that from my conversations with the secretary, the administration finds acceptable,” Transportation Committee House Chairman William Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat, told the News Service. He said, “That $12 billion number is specifically what the administration asked for, after we had done the tax bill.”
Transportation bond bills have typically attracted project earmarks during the drafting process and once they hit the floor for a vote. The bill that cleared the Transportation Committee Wednesday already includes $182.1 million in earmarks for House and Senate members, according to a summary.
Fifteen members of the committee voted in favor of the bill, two reserved their rights, and three did not vote.
If passed, the governor’s office - Massachusetts voters are scheduled to elect Gov. Deval Patrick’s successor next November - would have the onus to decide whether to fund the various spending items.
The bill also doubles the fines for fare evasion on the MBTA and the commuter rail, which were increased in 2012 as part of an MBTA bailout.
“We did increase those fines so no one thinks there is anything like a free ride on the T,” Straus told the News Service.
An extension of the Silver Line to Chelsea is not specifically funded in the bill, nor is funding for the Springfield Viaduct, according to Straus, who said some proposed earmarks were excluded from the bill itself but could be added when the bill hits the floors of the House and Senate. He said the bill would move through the House Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets and Ways and Means before hitting the House floor.
Several of the projects are at different levels of completion. The train lines from Pittsfield to New York and Worcester to Springfield “still need quite a lot of design,” while the rail to the Cape is already in place and in need of track upgrades.
Straus and other South Coast lawmakers have pushed for completion of a commuter rail to Fall River and New Bedford, through Taunton, which the administration initially gave a $1.8 billion price tag when it sought to use diesel locomotives. An environmental review by the Army Corps of Engineers said the project should use more costly electrically wired trains, and the cost was increased by $400 million.
“That’s the number that the administration provided to us based on the completion of the Army Corps of Engineers environmental review,” Straus said.
Straus said the actual completion of South Coast Rail will depend on the next governor, and the Legislature will likely have done all the lawmaking needed to provide for the project by passing the bond bill.
“As I read existing law, authorization and financing that the Legislature has undertaken, with this approval the Legislature will not be required or called upon to adopt anything further with South Coast Rail,” Straus said. He said, “The success of South Coast Rail will depend on this and the next governor.”
Sen. Mark Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat who used to head up the regional chamber of commerce and has pushed for the train for decades, said funding bills for South Coast Rail have passed before.
“This is just one more step. I don’t get too excited. In fact the next time I get excited will be if the day comes when the first train arrives. Until then, I’ll probably be pretty tempered in my responses,” Montigny said.
The rail line’s inclusion will likely get a positive response from Rep. Antonio Cabral, a New Bedford Democrat and South Coast Rail proponent who is chairman of the House Bonding Committee.
Not included in the bill is local road funding known as Chapter 90. Earlier in the year, the committee separated out Chapter 90 funding from the governor’s transportation bond bill, which gave it 10 years at $300 million per year.
The Legislature passed one year of Chapter 90 funding at $300 million, a 50 percent increase from last year, and local officials heaped criticism on the administration after Patrick signed the bill but only released half the funding, later adding another $50 million to bring the Chapter 90 back up to $200 million.
“I’m just waiting to hear when and if they’re going to do the Chapter 90,” said Tom Philbin, of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.
Straus noted the Legislature has already passed the Chapter 90 funding for this year.
“We’re not under a deadline,” said Straus.
The bill also includes language for the Massachusetts Port Authority to give the MBTA “fair market value compensation” for parcels of land transferred as part of South Boston’s Conley Terminal Dedicated Freight Corridor.
As revelers get ready to gather in Boston to celebrate the Boston's World Series win, South Shore MBTA routes are preparing to amp up service.
Service on the Red, Orange, Blue and Green lines will operate with rush hour levels of service beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday.
Previously scheduled diversions between Kendall/MIT and Park Street Stations on the Red line have been canceled for Nov. 2 and 3. The commuter boat out of Hingham will also be running at maximum capacity.
“Please be advised that each boat trip has a maximum capacity of 149 passengers. Parade-goers may start purchasing the $16 round trip tickets this afternoon at the Hingham Shipyard ticket window,” said MBTA spokesman Joe Pestaturo on Friday.
Customers are also encouraged to buy round trip or return tickets prior to their inbound trips to avoid long lines on their way home.
Commuter line trains will not be running out of Greenbush, Kingston, or Stoughton. However, patrons can catch commuter trains out of Worcester, Franklin/Forge Park, Providence, Middleboro/Lakeville, and a number of North Shore trains.
“Commuter Rail's Saturday schedule has been modified to provide special, pre-parade service with extra inbound trains in the morning,” MBTA officials said on their website. “In addition, capacity is being significantly increased along each line. Please expect variations in scheduled times due to increased ridership and allow extra time for your trip. The MBTA strongly urges parade-goers to take advantage of the earliest trains to avoid very heavy volume on subsequent trains.”
Each of those lines will return to their regular Saturday schedules at approximately 4 p.m.
Commuter Rail tickets can be purchase electronically via the mTicket mobile ticketing app at www.mbta.com/mticket beginning Friday, November 1 at 1:00 p.m.
For more information or train and boat schedules, click here.
The Red Sox parade will start at 10 a.m. at Fenway Park.
For more information on the parade, click here.
Worried about new federal flood insurance rules sparking another foreclosure crisis in Massachusetts, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Attorney General Martha Coakley on Wednesday partnered to file legislation limiting the amount of insurance homeowners in the flood zone must purchase.
Though the Winthrop Democrat said the state-level action could blunt the impact of new federal flood insurance regulations, DeLeo said Congress must still act to further protect the expanded group of coastal residents and businesses and those living near lakes and rivers who are now required to purchase more comprehensive and costly insurance.
“People aren’t going to be able to pay their insurance, and as a result of that they’re going to lose their home unless we can convince our friends in Washington, which right now I guess they’re a little bit involved with a couple other issues, but they’re really going to have to get on the ball and address this,” DeLeo told reporters after meeting with House Democrats.
The bill filed by DeLeo and Coakley would limit the amount of flood coverage a homeowner or business must purchase to the value of the mortgage on the property, instead of the replacement value of the home. Creditors would also be prohibited from requiring coverage for contents of the home, or including a deductible less than $5,000.
Taking one of the only steps a state can to limit the amount of coverage required under federal guidelines, the Beacon Hill leaders hope to lower premiums for impacted homeowners, while retaining the option for consumers to purchase more coverage if they desire.
“These new flood insurance changes are going to devastate many families and businesses in our coastal communities,” Coakley said in a statement. “We continue to urge the federal government to delay implementing these changes until they’ve followed all the steps required by law.”
Coakley said she did not expect insurers to have a “huge complaint” with the legislation.
The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 required the Federal Emergency Management Agency to redraw national flood maps, and eliminated various subsidies in the National Flood Insurance Program to ensure sustainability.
Critics, however, say the new maps have captured large swaths of real estate at little to no risk of flooding, forcing larger numbers of property owners to purchase insurance. New rules governing the required height of buildings and other structural requirements for properties in the flood zone have also driven up the price tags on policies.
Rep. James Cantwell, a Marshfield Democrat, recently provided the News Service with a copy of an insurance bill for a Scituate homeowner that spiked up to $68,000 under the new program. He called the new FEMA flood maps “ridiculous.”
The homeowner, Peg Sullivan, told the News Service that she previously paid a $1,300 premium for the same coverage.
“It’s hurting our Massachusetts builders. It’s hurting our Massachusetts realtors. Right now, all up and down the coast, we have essentially people are being frozen out. They can’t sell their homes, and people aren’t buying because there’s so much uncertainty about what their rates are going to be for their flood insurance. The speaker taking swift action right now is so warranted and so helpful and I’m thrilled to be joining with him,” Cantwell said.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey and the state’s entire Congressional delegation recently sent a letter to House and Senate leadership urging a delay in the Biggert-Waters reforms.
Cantwell said budget cuts limited FEMA's ability to review its surveys, and the government shutdown, which began Oct. 1, has placed on furlough the governmental affairs person at FEMA whom he speaks to about constituents' concerns. Scituate and Marshfield hired their own consultant to contest the FEMA maps.
Cantwell, whose bill (H 865) had a hearing last month calling on the Division of Insurance to regularly investigate the National Flood Insurance Program, said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that DeLeo’s bill can be heard and brought forward for a vote before the end of the year.
Though he made clear the “ultimate answer” must still come from Washington, DeLeo said he hopes that by tying the insurance requirements in Massachusetts to the value of a mortgage, property owners will fare “significantly better” than they would under the federal guidelines.
“We’re truly going to see people losing their homes, not from floods, but from flood insurance,” DeLeo said.
A Scituate homeowner stuck with a $68,000 flood insurance bill following redrawn flood zone maps has dropped her coverage, according to her insurance agent.
“They don’t have a bank so they’re not required to carry it,” said Albert Marchionne, of A.J. Marchionne Insurance Agency, in Quincy.
In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy brought tropical storm force winds across 1,000 miles of the East Coast, damaging or destroying 650,000 houses, killing 147 people, and causing more than $50 billion in damage across 24 states, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report.
Sandy struck a few months after Congress passed into law the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which instructed the National Flood Insurance Program to redraw its flood maps, eliminate some discounts and make the program more solvent by more accurately measuring risk.
The new Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps have drawn in homeowners who lived outside the flood zones, and increased rates so that local realtors have worried about a potential rise in foreclosures.
Marchionne spoke to FEMA earlier in the year, and he said officials there stood by the premium adjustment, up from about $3,000 per year, and placed part of the blame on dimensions of the home, which was rebuilt after the blizzard of 1978.
FEMA determined the home, which is right on the beach, was not sufficiently raised above the high tide mark, Marchionne said. “Apparently they missed by three inches,” Marchionne told the News Service. He said, “They said that’s what it is. They missed the elevation so that’s what the price is.”
Rep. James Cantwell, a Marshfield Democrat, who has said Scituate and Marshfield hired their own consultant to contest the FEMA maps, provided a copy of a July 27 insurance bill to the Sullivans on Turner Road, in Scituate.
As part of his larger effort to bring attention to hardships caused by increased flood insurance rates, Cantwell has said budget cuts limited FEMA’s ability to review its surveys, and the government shutdown, which began Oct. 1, has placed on furlough the governmental affairs person at FEMA whom he speaks to about constituents’ concerns.
Marchionne said “without question” the home on a fairly crowded sandy spit of land off Scituate Harbor is in a risky area. Workers have recently begun piling large rocks at the end of the peninsula, where a jetty protects the harbor.
[Michael Norton contributed reporting]
With one constituent socked with a $68,707 premium, Rep. James Cantwell wants the federal government to reopen so that officials can find out whether any relief is available from federally mandated flood insurance rates.
The Marshfield Democrat said federal spending cuts had decimated the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s peer review on new flood insurance maps, and he is unsure whether the office will be staffed when Scituate and Marshfield plan to file a municipally funded review of the new maps.
“I hope the doors are opened so we can be able to file an appeal with somebody, because I don’t want to miss a statutory deadline because there’s no one to answer the phones and no one to receive the data,” Cantwell told the News Service last week.
On Tuesday, Cantwell said the government relations person he usually speaks with has been furloughed, and he believes someone will be at the office to receive the appeals.
While the federal government entered a partial shutdown last Tuesday and is on the brink of defaulting on debt, some property owner’s federal flood insurance bills have skyrocketed in what many see as an attempt by the federal government to recoup payments doled out in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation in New York and New Jersey.
Margaret Sullivan, a constituent who lives on Turner Road on a spit of land protecting Scituate Harbor, saw her premium rise from $4,600 annually to $68,707, according to Cantwell and a copy of her new bill.
Numerous attempts to contact Sullivan were unsuccessful and her listed phone number was disconnected. The Scituate assessor said the property is valued at $553,800 and has been in the family since at least 1978.
While the entire Massachusetts congressional delegation and Attorney General Martha Coakley have called for a delay in premium hikes, Washington D.C. has been wrestling with the more existential question of whether and how to agree on a funding bill to keep the government open.
The stalemate dragged into its second week Tuesday, as Republicans continued to insist on delays to the Affordable Care Act, and President Barack Obama said he would not negotiate “with a gun held to the head of the American people.”
The bills are still due for flood insurance payments.
“No one gets a tax delay from the shutdown,” said Cantwell.
The maps were redrawn in accordance with the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, which changed flood insurance subsidies and called for new, more accurate maps to keep the National Flood Insurance Program financially solvent.
Cantwell said the federal funding cuts known as the sequester hindered the agency from conducting a robust review of the new maps, and said many of the predicted flooding levels are outlandish.
Bob Warner, who owns The Mill Wharf Restaurant in Scituate, said his property is already raised off the ground, and the new maps show the waters seven feet higher. He said even during the 1991 “perfect storm” water didn’t reach the building, and he said Scituate is protected by Cape Cod from the effect of a hurricane, such as the one that battered and swamped the Jersey Shore last fall.
“Normally what happens after those preliminary maps come back, they would have money and they would do a thing called peer review, they’d hire engineers to check them out to make sure – it was never done, and part of what they’re saying is, they didn’t have the money,” said Cantwell. He said, “This data is 800 pages long. Marshfield’s spending about $40,000 to review it. Scituate’s going to have to spend a similar amount. And they’re telling me their peer review was done by this one engineer, who’s like a 24-year-old woman.”
For a homeowner with a $300,000 mortgage who goes from having no flood insurance to a coastal high-hazard area, monthly flood insurance rates can go from zero to $1,250, according to an analysis by Jack Conway & Company realtors.
Cantwell said he agrees the program needs to be expanded from the 5.7 million people now, and he said without a federal program, flood insurance rates could be twice as much.
With a skeleton crew staffing many federal agencies, Cantwell said he is concerned about the ability for Marshfield and Scituate to file appeals along with the Woods Hole Group’s engineering analysis, which cost the towns about $40,000 each.
The state lawmaker, who has warned that the new mapping will affect inland areas as well, said the shutdown has also impeded his ability to find answers for the beachfront property owners who received the $68,000 spike.
“I think it has to be an error, but I can’t reach anybody now to help put this person at ease,” Cantwell said.
Leominster, Plainville and Raynham could be home to the state’s lone slots license, as three gaming developers hoping to build in those communities submitted final applications to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission Friday.
The Gaming Commission will hear 90-minute presentations from the three entities seeking a slots license in the state on Monday.
After awarding a slots license in either December, January or February, the Gaming Commission plans to begin evaluating casino license applications with goal of awarding casino licenses in April.
Cordish Companies hopes to build a slots parlor in Leominster.
Raynham Park, which operated greyhound races until voters’ 2008 decision to outlaw dog racing went into effect, hopes to build a slots parlor on its site.
Penn National, which has seen its proposals drummed out of town in Tewksbury and passed over in Springfield, hopes to develop a slots parlor at Plainridge Racecourse, a harness horse racing track.
Plainridge had originally sought to develop a slots parlor on its own, but those plans were scrapped when the Gaming Commission ruled against the track’s suitability, following revelations that former track president Gary Piontkoski made personal cash withdrawals from the money room.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat, wants the Federal Emergency Management Agency to delay implementation of a federal flood insurance reform so that FEMA, Congress and local officials can restructure the program he warns will have a detrimental impact on coastal residents and businesses.
DeLeo issued a press release on Friday morning explaining that he has reached out to FEMA Administrator William Fugate and the Massachusetts Congressional delegation to work together to reform the program, which includes changes to insurance rates based on new flood risk calculations.
Rep. James Cantwell, a Marshfield Democrat, testified at a state legislative hearing this week that the new flood zone maps were “radically” increasing insurance rates and driving property values down in communities based on new maps that account for the rare possibilities of extreme storms.
DeLeo said the federal act, signed in 2012 and scheduled to be implemented over five years, will require more property owners to buy flood insurance.
“As a representative from a coastal community, I strongly believe that the sweeping changes enacted by FEMA will negatively impact property owners across Massachusetts,” DeLeo said in a statement. “While fortifying the nation’s emergency flood insurance program is an essential endeavor, I believe that we must approach these reforms in a targeted and equitable manner.”
Cantwell has filed a bill (H 865) that would direct the commissioner of insurance to regularly investigate how the National Flood Insurance Program rates are set and "make suggestions for changes to ensure the rates are not excessive."
Financial Services Committee Chairman Rep. Michael Costello, who lives in Newburyport, this week said flood insurance was not under the purview of the committee, and recommended lobbying Gov. Deval Patrick for assistance.
- M. Murphy/SHNS