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Wind turbine near Cohasset-Hingham line may be headed to court

Posted by dinouye  December 18, 2010 09:53 PM

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By Christine Legere, Globe correspondent

The industrial wind turbine planned for conservation land spanning parts of Hingham and Cohasset has created a spat between these two well-heeled neighbors. And whatever Cohasset’s Planning Board decides at its Jan. 12 meeting, the case will probably wind up in court.

The Trustees of Reservations, a Sharon-based nonprofit organization, has proposed a 410-foot-tall wind turbine for its Turkey Hill property. While the site lies in Cohasset, it’s bordered by Hingham neighborhoods, and homeowners there have hired an attorney to protect their interests.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the Planning Board, which ended hearings on the proposal, attorney Jeffrey Tocchio said that approval of a special permit for the turbine is likely to trigger a 10-taxpayer lawsuit, based on shortcomings he saw in the application.

But Cohasset Planning Board Chairman Al Moore called the threat of court action ‘‘a lot of bluster.’’

‘‘We wouldn’t be doing our job if we were intimidated by people saying, ‘We’re going to sue,’’’ Moore said. The project, he said, will be approved if it meets Cohasset’s bylaws, which planners believe it does. Otherwise, the applicant would likely sue, Moore said.

‘‘We get sued all the time,’’ Moore said. ‘‘And in this case, I’d say we may be appealed either way.’’

Hingham homeowners, who learned of the turbine proposal about two weeks ago, made impassioned pleas to Cohasset planners on Wednesday.

‘‘We love this land, and they’re taking it away from us,’’ Turkey Hill Lane resident Julie Dale said. ‘‘I’m asking you as human beings to consider the impacts this will have on those of us that live there and love this place.’’

Other speakers criticized the Trustees, claiming the conservation group ‘‘ deceived ’’ the public when it described the target site as marred by past industrial use. They argued the section, known as Whitney Thayer Woods, is pristine and used often by Hingham nature-lovers.

The Trustees of Reservations argued the project’s goal is to reduce fossil-fuel use and impacts on climate change, which is well within the Trustees’ mission as protectors of the land.
‘‘We’re taking the long view: not just the next 10 years, but the next 100,’’ said Trustees executive vice president Kathy Abbott. ‘‘This decision for the turbine is part of an ongoing process of protecting special places for everyone, forever.’’

Outside the meeting, the group’s southeast regional director, Steve Sloan, said climate changes, at their present rate, could result in significant environmental losses in the coming years.

‘‘In my son’s lifetime, we’re looking at the possibility of no snow cover in the winter, the elimination of maple trees or conditions that won’t support apple trees,’’ Sloan said. ‘‘To the degree this is a big and bold project, we understand that, but the answer to this problem needs to be bold.’’

Tocchio, however, said there are flaws in the Trustees’ application, and questioned the group’s legal authority to construct a for-profit operation on conservation land, based on its charter, the applicant’s failure to demonstrate the need for a 410-foot turbine rather than a smaller one, and the lack of data relating to endangered species.

Noise was of particular concern to Hingham homeowners, who requested an independent study of noise potential in their neighborhoods. But the Trustees’ engineers, who had produced charts and graphs demonstrating anticipated noise levels below state standards, said the Hingham homes were beyond the study area and should therefore experience less noise.

According to Hingham resident Khela Thorne, who lives across the Weir Estuary from Hull’s turbine, it’s not the degree of noise but its constancy. ‘‘It’s not like you have to cover your ears, but we feel it,’’ Thorne said. ‘‘It’s like a jet that goes by that doesn’t ever pass. You can list all the numbers, but I’m telling you firsthand. I live with it.’’

Moore commented said there was bound to be some noise.

‘‘The question we need to answer is does it exceed the 10-decibel threshold set by the state,’’ Moore said. If the turbine exceeds the limit once it’s running, operators would have to shut it down or do noise mitigation.

Moore added that homeowners could air their concerns, but the applicant’s job was to satisfy local officials that the project complies with the bylaws.

‘‘It’s the board that’s going to make the decision, not all the people in the room,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s not like you’re going to sit up here with us and deliberate.’’

Tocchio asked for a 30-day continuance of the public hearing so Hingham neighbors could review all the studies submitted to the town, and Hingham selectmen had sent a letter to Cohasset planners asking that Hingham residents receive adequate time to speak at the hearing. The Planning Board allowed three hours of comments Wednesday, then closed the hearing after midnight.

Hingham selectmen also had hoped the hearing would remain open for another 30 days. ‘‘I was disappointed it was closed, but I understand why they did it,’’ Hingham Selectmen Bruce Rabuffo (cq) said Thursday, noting residents had ample time for their input.

‘‘We’ll stay on top of this to make sure that people who will be impacted have their issues addressed. With projects like this, there can be controversy on both sides. I just hope it can be worked through.’’

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.

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