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In close call, Scituate residents vote to support wind turbine

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  April 11, 2013 07:05 AM

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Photos by Jessica Bartlett

(Above) Scituate resident Mark McKeever waits to speak about how his life has been changed by the turbine. (Left) Selectman Rick Murray speaks about how the town is responding to turbine complaints as Gerry Kelly, who put forward the resolution, stands in the background.


In a vote separated only by 14 people, residents at Scituate’s Town Meeting rejected an effort to withdraw support for the town’s 400-foot tall turbine.

Discussion on the topic lasted over an hour and a half. Many people offered impassioned pleas to take away what they described as a nuisance that has been causing health problems.

“Since it started operating we have been continually sick,” said Mark McKeever, who lives on the Driftway approximately 640 feet away from the machine. “We had no idea how massive the turbine would be next to our home.”

McKeever choked back tears as he described health complaints from his children, and described what he termed as excessive shadow flicker while a video showcasing the flicker was projected on a screen in the darkened gymnasium.

Residents eventually voted not to support the resolution in a vote of 118 to 132, effectively supporting the $6 million machine.

The testimony was similar to that heard at several Board of Health and Board of Selectmen meetings, yet officials encouraged residents to be patient while the town took a measured approach.

“This is about health. We are committed to being sure the windmill is being operated in a safe manner,” said Selectman Rick Murray. “… Not only are we paying attention to the issue, we’re doing everything we can in a measured, proportional, and well regarded fashion to see if there is a problem and what to do about it.”

Murray outlined the town’s pending acoustical study, and also said the town is looking into engaging in a flicker study with the town of Kingston and UMass Amherst.

Despite that work, others stood by McKeever to voice their own concerns, comparing the sound of the turbine to jet planes flying overhead that never leave.

Tom Thompson, who has been a spokesperson for the affected residents, said that the town should look to rescind the special permit because it’s likely it had been breached.

As for the cost, which Murray said could run from $3.5 million to $12 million over the course of the contract if breached, Thompson said there were organizations available to help pay to take turbines down.

Other residents gave officials the benefit of the doubt of why the turbine was erected.

“I think the town had great intentions, but we didn’t have the correct info,” a Gilson Road resident said. “We made a mistake, and we need to start figuring out how to fix the mistake,” he said. “We have all people with health problems.”

“As uninformed as the boards were, the residents will be paying a costly public health price for not moving to a more sensible alternative solution,” agreed Paul Shea, who lives on Ladds Way.

Sean Krause, who also lives on Gilson Road, said he understood that other people didn’t hear it – his own wife wasn’t bothered by the machine. But he had been affected.

Though countless residents voiced concern of the turbine, turbine supporters did not stay silent.

“I see a fraction of Scituate,” said Lisa Bertola, an Elm Street resident. “And I don’t think it’s well representative about how we feel about this issue.”

Bertola said children in town are excited about clean energy, and many residents are impassioned about going green. She urged selectmen not to over-react to the residents’ concerns.

Other residents offered potential solutions to the problem, including turning the turbine off during hours of shadow flicker and slowing the turbine down to reduce the noise.

“We need to do the research, and I think it’s time the selectmen do some mitigation of extreme issues people are living with,” said Scott Greenbaum, who owns a renewable energy business in town.

Residents initially submitted a petition to rescind the turbine’s permit. The motion was turned into a resolution on Town Meeting floor, as a vote to rescind the permit would not have been legal or binding.

Thompson said he was not disheartened by the vote, but emboldened.

“I’m very encouraged. If not for the members of the advisory committee, members of selectmen and friends voting against us, we would have carried the day,” Thompson said. “… We’ll continue to follow due process. We knew this was a non binding resolution, but I think this sends a message to the town.”

Though the turbine discussion played out as predicted, articles that typically pass without problem generated large controversy at the meeting, including the rejection of an easement taking at the intersection of First Parish Church and Country Way to possibly begin discussions of reconfiguring the roadway.

Despite the support and positive statistics from officials, the idea of a roundabout was met with a strong, negative reaction from residents, especially upon finding that beloved business Ronnie Shone had not yet been contacted in the initial stages of the project.

“To even contemplate a project of this size without discussing for one minute with the abutter, it just blows my old mind that we could have so little regard for a person’s livelihood,” said Nancy Murray Young.

An article seeking to increase the flexibility of frontage requirements in commercial and residential developments also failed, despite selectmen’s pleas.

Another article looking to impose more oversight on and restrict the size of accessory dwellings, or additions meant to be used as a main home by another person, also generated over half an hour of discussion and was ultimately postponed indefinitely.

While officials saw it as a way to prevent large-scale developments in small neighborhoods, residents felt the requirements were too stringent and felt the current bylaw worked.

Town meeting concluded at midnight.

Other interesting tidbits:

- Acceptance of Economic Development Commission fund where officials hope to allocate meals tax revenue

- Acceptance of one-year medical marijuana moratorium

- Acceptance of 12-month demolition delay for homes found to be historical

- Postponement of article looking to change “Town Administrator” to “Town Manager”

- Postponement of article looking for $300,000 for seawalls

- Passage of a resolution in response to and against Citizen’s United.

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