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Scituate turbine talks off to slow start

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  December 5, 2012 04:29 PM

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After more than two months of discussions, neiighbors and the owners of Scituate’s industrial wind turbine have made little progress in settling their differences.

Neighbors have been meeting with Board of Health officials since late September, rallying against the turbine after the structure allegedly started causing health problems to many nearby residents.

Although the Board of Health has formed a Steering Committee consisting of neighbors, turbine owners, and town officials, and despite meetings in October, November, and December, the turbine has kept spinning and discussions within the Steering Committee have been slow going.

“Not withstanding that two members of the Board of Health acknowledged that there is evidence to suggest there is an issue, there has been nothing [done] besides a Steering Committee commissioned,” said Tom Thompson, a spokesperson for the community group. “In the meantime, families like the McKeevers are experiencing health issues….I don’t see how anyone in the community can be pleased with that level of progress.”

The McKeever family, which lives on the Driftway, have even published YouTube videos showing the shadow flicker – a strobe-like effect caused by the blades spinning in sunlight – in their home.

Elsewhere in Scituate, residents have submitted dozens of complaints to the Board of Health, saying that the turbine is causing sleeplessness, dizziness, and headaches.

To get to the bottom of the issue, Board of Health officials plan to commission a study to look at the noise and shadow flicker effects on the neighborhood, to be paid for by the turbine owners.

The scope of that study, and the parameters of the engineering company, will be determined by the recently formed Steering Committee.

However, the Steering Committee has yet to meet, and residents remain frustrated that nothing concrete has been accomplished.

“I don’t think there has been any progress made thus far,” Thompson said.

Issues surrounding the Open Meeting Law had to first be figured out before the group could meet. Additionally scheduling issues with the Director of Health, Jennifer Sullivan, has caused some delays, Thompson said.

“As the head of the staff, she has a significant role, and it makes sense that her inability to attend these meetings or make herself available would have a negative impact on pace,” Thompson said.

Yet according to Gordon Dean, owner of the turbine, the delays in meeting are mostly the fault of the community.

"We’ve tried to be responsive," Dean said. "[At the Monday meeting], Mr. Thompson took responsibility for the fact that there hadn’t been a meeting and nothing presented at this point in time. He said it is on their shoulders. He said he would check at the end of this week how their consultant is doing. …we are waiting. We can't control it if they don’t want to sit down until they have heard from their consultant."

Furthermore, Dean said the Board of Health had been cautious up to this point, which he supported.

Despite delays, the community group hopes to meet before Christmas.

In preparation for that meeting, the community group is forming their scope of work for a potential study, a document that should be ready next week. Dean said that his side has presented possible scopes from consulting firms he had approached to get an initial cost estimate.

The Department of Environmental Protections has also provided the town with a scope of study that is currently taking place in Fairhaven.

"DEP suggested that if town is thinking of using [the study] for enforcement that the final scope should be reviewd by the DEP," Dean said.

At this point, the hope is to finalize a scope of work within the month to put a request for proposal out to bid at the start of the year.

“We would like to have a formal meeting of the Steering Committee to hopefully agree on a scope to be presented to the Board of Health,” Thompson said. “We know the [Board of Health’s] next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 7 and hopefully at that time they will agree on a scope and it will be issued to engineering firms…and we will determine t that time what the next steps are.”

Though there may soon be decisions about what a study will focus on, funding for the study has yet to be determined.

Dean agreed to fund a study looking at the noise of the turbine, but has had yet to publicly say whether Scituate Wind LLC would fund a study including shadow flicker.

Despite this hang-up, Thompson said he isn’t concerned.

“Clearly the issues in play relate to noise and shadow flicker, any engineering study commissioned by the town needs to reflect both of those nuances, or it's not an all encompassing study,” he said.

Yet Dean said a study of shadow flicker had already taken place, and it isn't clear how flicker may play a role in the latest study.

"We’ve already paid for a shadow flicker study, and we don’t understand what people are asking for," Dean said. "It’s an easy mathematical thing based on the sun and the turbine…we just don’t understand what people are suggesting we do differently, so we’re waiting to get a neighborhood proposal on flicker."

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