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…
If sea level rise projections become reality and high tides a century from now resemble what today are major floods, the Aquarium Blue Line Station would likely be underwater while across the harbor the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital will be better prepared to weather frequent incursions of harbor water, according to Boston Harbor Association Executive Director Julie Wormser.
“By mid-century, every year the T’s going to have to deal with a foot and a half of seawater. By the end of the century it’s dealing more with five feet of seawater,” said Wormser, who said the Aquarium Station would need to be moved.
She said, “People have mentioned doing giant sea dams across our Boston Harbor Islands. I don’t know what that would do for all the money we spent on the cleanup, for one, but it also would sap all of our money to do anything else. What do you do with the water? You can’t keep back the tide?”
Officials from San Francisco, Louisiana and the Netherlands traveled to the JFK Library Tuesday, carrying with them schematics and animations that depicted flooding scenarios that in the case of the Netherlands nearly swallowed the whole country, and discussed ways to reroute floodwaters and build large, protective sandbars.
In the Netherlands, parkland has been built to serve as temporary retaining ponds, or polders, during major floods; rivers have been reconfigured; and a city provided beach parking and reinforced the sand dunes at the same time by constructing an underground garage by the shore, said Royal Dutch Embassy Senior Economist Dale Morris.
“They get it. They get it. We don’t. It’s as simple as that,” said William Golden, executive director of the new National Institute for Coastal and Harbor Infrastructure, who said the impending sea level rise will be “the biggest business opportunity for engineering firms in this country.” He said, “The Dutch are coming over here and they’re eating your lunch.”
Boston does not face the altitudinal problems borne by much of the Netherlands and New Orleans, where substantial areas lie below sea level, however the sea level is projected to rise faster in Massachusetts Bay than the North Sea, where storms are less violent as well.
Much of Massachusetts has a hilly landscape and solid bedrock beneath, unlike southeastern Florida, which has little high ground to seek safety and sits on porous limestone, as Broward County official Jennifer Jurado described, saying water can rush up the Everglades flooding homes inland on the peninsula state.
The shape and makeup of Boston Harbor provides better protection from a massive storm surge than New York City, which was inundated with water when Super Storm Sandy’s landfall coincided with high tide a little more than a year ago.
“We located our state’s capital in a very, very good harbor. It doesn’t mean that the rest of Massachusetts doesn’t get hammered. So during Sandy while Boston was getting 2-foot waves, Scituate and Gloucester were getting 25-foot waves,” said Wormser.
“No one likes to hear it but the fact of the matter is we’re not going to be able to armor everywhere; we’re not going to be able to drain everywhere. There are going to need to be very real, hard choices about what areas we’re going to need to protect and what areas we are in fact going to have to walk away from,” said Scituate Selectman Richard Murray, who is a Boston University professor of oceanography. He said, “We’re not talking about next Thursday at 3:15 everybody’s going to get out.”
Murray said federal incentives for restrictive zoning should be used and areas should seek “managed retreat” from the sea, as was the case in the period since the Blizzard of 1978 when the roughly 50 homes on Peggotty Beach before the storm dwindled to 15 today, he said.
The talk took place at the presidential library, which sits on the harbor’s edge, next to UMass Boston, where a new academic building is also under construction. The talk also coincided with news of the devastation wrought late last week by Super Typhoon Haiyan’s path across the Philippines, which a few speakers referenced.
U.S. Housing and Urban Development Senior Advisor Josh Sawislak, who was a member of the President’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, said, “We don’t know what the next storm will be like.”
Sawislak, who worked on the Big Dig project, said the task force recommended regional collaboration, fiscal sustainability, and efficacy when undertaking projects to handle rising seas and storms.
“Starting with recovery is the loser’s game,” Sawislak said.
The Spaulding Center has prepared for its perch near the harbor by putting electrical systems on the roof, keeping its vital program areas on the upper floors, while conference rooms occupy the bottom levels and the landscaping outside is well designed to handle flooding, Wormser said.
Massachusetts Water Resources Authority Advisory Board Executive Director Joe Favoloro said the Deer Island Waste Treatment Plant had been protected and built at enough elevation to keep it out of the surf, and said, “Most of the MWRA projects are not at a severe risk.”
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.
Though things are under control, concerned residents have called in record numbers.
On Tuesday, a wind change blew smoke across Route 93, causing visibility problems. Later that day, smoke from the fire blew into Quincy, causing some residents to think there was a fire in their neighborhoods.
“We were getting calls everywhere, trucks would drive around and not find anything because it was smoke from Blue Hills. But we can’t ignore it,” Fenby said.
City Councilor Brian Palmucci also said people were concerned about safety. Dozens have called, emailed, or sent messages on Facebook to the councilor wanting to know what was happening.
“It’s clear here is something going on,” Palmucci said. “There is a strong smoke smell in West Quincy right now and there has been since Tuesday night…I smelled it about 8:30 on Tuesday and I thought the house was on fire.”
Palmucci said he issued an automated call on Wednesday to inform approximately 9,000 households of the fire and to let them know that there was no danger.
“My fear is there are seniors in the home by themselves and they don’t know what’s going on and may not have access to a computer…and are nervous about the smell,” Palmucci said. “It’s more letting the public know that there is no public safety threat.”
All eight current U.S. House members from Massachusetts voted against a temporary budget measure put forward by House GOP leadership over the weekend that would have averted a government shutdown by delaying the implementation of the Affordable Care Act for one year and repealing the tax on medical devices used to help fund the health care reform law.
The continuing resolution that would have funded the federal government through Dec. 15 cleared the Republican-controlled House on a mostly party-line vote of 231-192, with the Massachusetts delegation voting in a bloc to protect Obamacare despite opposition in the delegation to the medical device tax.
With the Democrat-controlled Senate preparing to reject the budget bill on Monday, time is running out and options appear limited to avert the first government shutdown since late 1995 into early 1996 when Bill Clinton was president. That shutdown lasted 21 days.
Sen. Edward Markey last week warned that a government shutdown could delay processing of new Social Security benefit applications and access to student and small business loans. The House also passed a measure to ensure that military pay continues in the event of a government shutdown if a deal cannot be reached by midnight. Open enrollment for new health plans under the ACA is scheduled to begin Tuesday.
- M. Murphy/SHNS
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.
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Having rejected a medical marijuana moratorium that would have extended into 2015 and approved a moratorium that ends in December 2014, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office has developed a cut-off point for towns that want to extend temporary moratoriums on the fledgling industry.
Since voters approved a medical marijuana initiative petition in November 2012 and the Department of Public Health in May adopted regulations for establishing marijuana dispensaries, about a third of the state’s cities and towns have enacted temporary moratoriums designed to provide more time to develop new zoning and other regulations.
On Wednesday, the AG’s Municipal Law Unit chief, Assistant Attorney General Margaret Hurley, gave approval to the town of Dartmouth for a moratorium extending until Dec. 4, 2013.
“However, we cannot presently see how a moratorium that extends beyond December 31, 2014 would be considered reasonable,” Hurley wrote, citing a 1980 case Sturges v. Chilmark, which involved zoning on Martha’s Vineyard.
The AG’s office has previously ruled that towns cannot ban medical marijuana dispensaries because that is contrary to the state law passed on a ballot referendum.
On Sept. 12, Hurley denied a bylaw passed by Canton Town Meeting, which would have ended June 30, 2015. “We recognize that every town’s planning needs are different, and that some towns have professional planning staff while other towns rely solely upon volunteer planning board members. Even in light of these varying planning needs and capacities, it is reasonable to expect a town to complete its planning process for the limited (albeit new and complex) use of [registered marijuana dispensaries] by December 30, 2014, a full 19 months after publication of the DPH regulations,” Hurley wrote.
Towns are required to submit their bylaw changes to the AG for approval. Cities do not have to undergo an AG review for their ordinances.
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A readjustment of federal flood insurance rates is “radically” increasing costs for property owners as new maps project rare storm winds of over 200 miles per hour and three-foot waves in Marshfield Center, which is about five miles inland, according to Rep. James Cantwell.
“They went so radically to an extreme and in such a short amount of time,” Cantwell said after testifying at the Committee on Financial Services. He said the new actuarial calculation will increase flood insurance costs “25 percent a year for the next four to six years for people who are just, they’re going to get priced out of their homes.”
An increase in flood insurance rates drives down property values, creating an additional threat of foreclosure, said a panel of homeowners, bankers and real estate professionals who Cantwell assembled to testify before the state legislative panel.
“The sellers are forced to make deductions in their prices,” said Kim Moccia, a Radius Financial Group mortgage consultant. She said, “My fear is that we’re going to see an influx of foreclosures.”
Homeowners on the South Shore have protested the rates in recent meetings.
Cantwell has proposed 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.”
“We don’t do flood insurance, quite frankly, because it’s not the purview of our committee,” said House Chairman Michael Costello, who suggested the proponents would be able to more speedily achieve their goals by lobbying Gov. Deval Patrick to call for such a study. He said, “How much will it help? I don’t know. Is it more symbolic than anything? Maybe.”
Cantwell, who will attend an oversight hearing Wednesday by the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, said the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 requires the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which draws the flood maps, to study the financial impacts of the new rates.
“FEMA hasn’t done the study because of sequestration,” Cantwell said.
In an online fact sheet, FEMA said the national flood program created in 1968 is in need of financial stability.
“Flooding has been, and continues to be, a serious risk in the United States—so serious that most insurance companies have specifically excluded flood damage from homeowners insurance,” FEMA wrote. The fact sheet said, “Over the years, the costs and consequences of flooding have continued to increase. For the NFIP to remain sustainable, its premium structure must reflect the true risks and costs of
flooding. This is a primary driver for many of the changes required under the law.”
The new maps, which have been created on the North Shore and South Shore, will be done throughout the state, pulling people into the redrawn flood zone where a home’s basement can be a tremendous liability, according to Doris Crary, of Marshfield.
“These people are looking at policies of $20-$30,000. They were fully compliant structures that were built with all of the laws of the town and the state and the building codes; and then they’re moved in afterwards, which is why we believe the basements should not count, and I don’t believe these properties should be even added into the special flood hazard area,” Crary told reporters.
Robert Tommasino, who is general counsel at the Fair Plan, a legislatively mandated partnership of insurers that provides a homeowner’s insurance refuge of last resort for property owners but does not provide flood coverage, said he is unaware of how the federal government calculates the rates.
“I’m not sure if they’re trying to make up losses that they’ve suffered in their program for the last 30 years all in one year or two years, rather than, say if we have losses – if we have a tremendously bad year and we lose $200 million in that year, we can’t make it up in one or two years,” Tommasino said. He said, “I don’t know what FEMA is doing, to be honest, and whether or not they’re overshooting to be able to kind of broaden the number of policy holders and therefore be able to collect the premium.”
Cantwell said the surplus from the National Flood Insurance Program is annually deposited into the federal government’s general fund, leaving the fund vulnerable when it is required to make massive payouts.
“All the money that goes into this fund should stay in the fund,” said Cantwell, who said only 60 percent of those who are deemed to require the insurance actually pay for it.
Many New Yorkers and New Jersey residents have spent much of the past 11 months digging out from Tropical Storm Sandy, and reports from Colorado show areas awash with devastating floodwaters, and Cantwell said the country as a whole should be on the hook for those costs, rather than only flood insurance policyholders.
“Those people in Colorado, I would bet most of them aren’t going to have flood insurance, because they just weren’t predicting this would be happening. So, should the federal government help them? Yes, they should,” said Cantwell, who said he is not financially impacted by the rate change. “That’s the role of the federal government, but you can’t then turn around and expect people who have been playing by the rules, who have their insurance, to shoulder the burden.”
Cantwell said Haddad’s Ocean Café in the Marshfield village of Brant Rock had recently raised its foundation up in an effort to limit its flood exposure, but the new maps have determined the height increase is insufficient.
“Now they’re receiving notice that they’re three feet below where they should be,” Cantwell said.
US Representative Stephen F. Lynch, who opposes US military intervention in Syria, was in good company at town hall in Quincy Thursday.
The South Boston Democrat spent nearly two hours taking questions from a polite crowd, whose inquiries revealed a deep vein of doubt that military action would achieve positive results for the country and thanks that Lynch held that view.
“I really appreciate your commitment to voting against another war in the Middle East,” said Dorchester resident Jeff Klein, 67, echoing the sentiment of the majority of questioners in the Quincy High School auditorium.
The crowd of about 100 people, which was split between men and woman, skewed older and included a number of military veterans. Many asked questions of fact -- how can we know that the chemical weapons were used by Assad’s regime? -- while others just wanted to have their voice heard in opposition to striking Syria.
Lynch gave detailed, often nuanced, answers to every question he was asked, often peppering his responses with anecdotes from his many visits over the years to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and other countries in the region.
He said that the high volume of constituent calls and emails about the potential intervention in Syria -- more than five to one against -- prompted him to hold the event.
On Aug. 31, President Obama said in an address he believed the US should take military action against Syria after the reported use of chemical weapons by the forces of Syrian leader Bashar Assad. But, he said, he would first ask Congress for its green light.
In the subsequent days, public opinion and the opinion of many members of Congress, both Democratic and Republican, appeared to be strongly opposed to authorizing Obama to strike Syria. Many in the all-Democratic Massachusetts congressional delegation, Lynch among them, expressed deep skepticism about military action in the civil war-torn Middle Eastern country.
But after a potential diplomatic settlement in which Syria would give up its chemical weapons began to gain traction, Obama announced Tuesday he had asked Congress postpone a vote on the authorization of force.
Before Lynch took questions Thursday evening, he spoke about what informed his opposition to authorizing the use of force and was repeatedly interrupted by applause from the audience.
He said there were two main reasons he was currently against intervention.
The first, he said, is that there is a “fundamental flaw in the foreign policy of the United States to unilaterally attack Syria without meaningful international support.”
The second was that “the course of military action that has been chosen, as described Secretary [of State John F.] Kerry has I think a pretty unlikely probability of success in terms achieving what we would hope for in Syria.”
Lynch’s position puts him at odds with Obama, an issue he addressed early in the forum.
“I love my President, but, based on my own reading of this -- and this is where democracy with a small d comes into play -- I think that’s the wrong the decision,” Lynch said.
Lynch staffers provided copies of the authorization resolution, which many in the audience flipped through over the course of the event.
Heba Eid, 28, was one of the only questioners who expressed support of US military action in Syria.
“I don’t think Bashar al-Assad is going to agree to any kind of diplomacy unless there is military pressure on him,” Eid said. “I think that the House should vote for military action.” She said that doing nothing in the face of the alleged chemical weapons use would send the wrong message to Assad.
Lynch, engaged in a lengthy but respectful back and forth with her, replied that “There are a lot of options between bombing and doing nothing.”
In the televised primetime address on Tuesday, Obama also said that taking action in Syria did not mean the US would get involved in every humanitarian crisis across the world.
“America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death...I believe we should act,” the President said.
But that message had not resonated among the people in the auditorium Thursday night.
Quincy resident Russell Erikson, 91, served as a pilot in World War II and was the first member of the public to arrive at the town hall. He said he was opposed to a military intervention in Syria, not wanting to see any young American men or women die in that conflict.
“We can’t police the whole world,” he said.
Joshua Miller can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos. A version of this post appeared on the Political Intelligence blog.