Justin A. Rice for Boston.comOn a table inside the cabin of the Salem ferry on Tuesday afternoon, six bags of Halloween candy were left open for any passenger who needed a little sugar or chocolate to get them through the afternoon. Folks mingled by the snack bar as if they were embarking on a sunset cruise, but a decibel meter sitting on a seat near the candy was a sign this was no leisure cruise.
“It seems as though everyone is in good cheer, it’s an opportunity for every to be less formal, it invites and promotes dialog,” Edward Moriarty Jr. said shortly after about 100 Salem residents and officials began a ferry trip to Hull to survey that town’s two wind turbines. “We’ll see if everyone is as friendly afterward, but so far so good.”
The president of a group — Salemwind.org — opposed to the proposed 400-foot turbine at Salem’s Winter Island was leaning on a deck rail on the port side of the boat.
“It’s rough out there,” he said before being asked if he meant the water or among the boat’s passengers. “Both.”
Not everyone was polarized about whether a 1.5-megawatt wind turbine belonged in one of Salem’s most popular recreation areas, even if the $4.2 million turbine would generate $200,000 to $700,000 in annual revenue.
“I like green power but I have a little NIMBY in my heart; do I really want it in my back yard?” Michael Swiniarski of Salem Willows said while snapping pictures of Hull’s first turbine from the ferry’s bow.
“I’m here to be swayed one way or the other.”
After docking in Hingham Bay, three school buses shuttled the group to Hull Wind 2, which is located on a capped landfill and is said to be similar in scope to Salem’s proposed turbine. Mayor Kimberley Driscoll’s chief aide, Jason Silva, said the buses were paid for by the Salem Alliance for the Environment and the gas for the trip on the city-owned ferry cost about $1,000.
City Councilor At-large Steve Pinto was peeved the trip was paid for with taxpayer money after the city reduced the Salem ferry’s schedule to Boston about a month ago because of high fuel costs.
“I find it a little condescending to say the least,” said Pinto, a turbine opponent who gasped at the size of the Hull Wind 2 when it first became visible from his bus window.
Walking toward the base of the 190-foot turbine, however, Jim Kearney called the turbine “mesmerizing” and Jim Rose said “It certainly doesn’t sound like a jet engine. It’s much ado about nothing.”
Leland Hussey added, “It’s awesome, I’m amazed by the beauty of the thing; it’s a pretty sound, actually.”
Cindy Keegan, who chairs the Renewable Energy Task Force, used a decibel meter to measure the whooshing noise and said it was about 55 DBAs.
Commissioned in 2006, Hull Wind 2 cost $3.3 million to build, $40,000 to maintain annually and will take 12 years to pay for itself, according to Hull Town Manager Phil Lemnios, who addressed the Salem group.
He said the turbines have not killed any birds, not thrown big globs of ice from there blades and there have been no health issues.
“Both turbines have become iconic in the Town of Hull,” he said. “They are very popular and schoolchildren love them. … When it’s not working, people call and say ‘why is it not working?’ That’s the call I get.”
Moriarty, the Salemwind.org, president, remained unconvinced, especially since Hull Wind 2 is on landfill surrounding by a locked gate.
“It’s not in the least comparable in height, width, sound or location [to the Salem proposal],” he said before noting that some turbine manufacturers recommend staying about 700 feet away from the turbine’s base. “I believe some manufacturers believe it’s unsafe to be in the immediate vicinity … it is a liability issue, but I think safety concerns should come first. And if manufacturers are concerned it should be the concern of a municipality.”
Walking back to the buses so the group could drive to Hull Wind 1, Mayor Driscoll said they aren’t trying to “ramrod anything through” without a public process.
“That’s’ why we get folks out,” she said. “There’s nothing like seeing and touching it for yourself so you can see the impacts.”
By the time the buses unloaded at the site of the town’s second turbine on the grounds of Hull High School, Swiniarski —the Willows resident who was on the fence — said he was more in favor of wind turbines than before.
“I’d like to see what it does when the wind is at full tilt,” he said while walking past a girls’ field hockey game being played at the foot of the turbine. “I think my neighbors will still be against the site. I think it’s going to be a visual issue for them. I’m still not 100 percent.”
Alcoholic beverages purchased from the snack bar helped to make the ferry ride home just as festive as the ride down, but Ward 1 City Councilor Robert McCarthy was all business. McCarthy, whose district covers the proposed site of the turbine, said the council will invite the turbine manufacturer to speak at a meeting in the next few months.
“A lot of people have concerns about the safety zone, the fall zone, public access,” McCarthy said. “We still have to figure out how we are going to finance this thing … we’re still considering this thing and trying to move forward. There’s still a long way to go.”
Winter Island could be seen clearly as the ferry approached its dock, especially the harbormaster's office and flagpole, where a balloon demonstrating the height of the turbine is scheduled to be floated from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. this Saturday.
Justin A. Rice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.