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Voters In Berkshire Town Defeat Amendments To Wind Turbine Bylaw

60 Meter Wind Turbine Powers Williams Stone in East Otis
60 Meter Wind Turbine Powers Williams Stone in East Otis

Voters in a small Berkshire County community earlier this week voted against a proposal that many some are arguing would open the town up for more wind energy development. The move comes at a time when more small Western Massachusetts towns are planning for their futures with wind energy in mind.

At a special town meeting Monday evening in the small Berkshire County town of Peru, voters rejected a proposed bylaw amendment that would have raised the noise threshold for wind turbines operating in the town.

John DiTamasso, a concerned town resident who engaged in grassroots organizing to encourage citizens to attend the meeting, said the language of the proposed change to the town’s existing 2005 bylaw was confusing.

"The argument was that we have a good bylaw and what they were proposing would have weakend what we already have," said DiTamasso.

Peru’s current bylaw says wind turbines are required to operate at a yearly noise average no louder than 40 decibels, a level consistent with safety recommendations by the World Health Organization. The change would bring the noise threshold to 45 decibels for any single 15 minute period, which is actually lower than the current allowance of noise up to 60 decibels for a 15 minute period.  Also rejected was an amendment to allow property owners to negotiate a deal with wind developers sidestepping the noise requirement.

DiTammaso, who said he is concerned over ill-health effects caused by wind turbines including headaches and sleep disruption,and  said the changes would have taken power away from citizens in a town that many residents find is unsuitable for wind development.

"If we had voted in favor of the proposal it would have opened up the entire town for development," said DiTammaso.

Members of the town selectboard were unreachable in time for broadcast.

According to the Berkshire Eagle, William Golden, of Acton-based Lighthouse Energy, a company that has been considering developing a wind project on Garnett Hill in Peru, dismissed concerns over health saying, “there is no scientific proof of health effects from these turbines.”

As wind development is increasingly sought after by state officials along the ridgelines of the Berkshires and surrounding areas, including the celebrated opening of the 19-turbine Hoosac Wind project in the towns of Florida of Monroe in December attended by Governor Deval Patrick and others, opposition has appeared in several communities. In February, in the Franklin County town of Heath, voters unanimously approved a ban on wind turbines over 100 feet tall within the town’s borders.

Steve Ryeck, a member of Health’s Clean Energy Advisory Committee that did research on the effects of a potential turbine in Heath, spoke to WAMC after the vote earlier this year.

"When we did the research it became fairily clear that were a lot of issues around health and noise," said Ryeck.

Eleanor Tillinghast of  Windwise Massachusetts, a group that warns against the dangers of wind power, said that more citizens across the region are taking action against wind development in their communities.

"I think what we're seeing throughout the region, throughout the state, and actually throughout New England is that people are looking at the experiences of other people who live near wind turbines and are saying 'we don't want that in our community'," said Tillinghast.

However, in March of this year in the Berkshire town of Otis, voters unanimously approved the development of a municipally-owned, 2-megawatt turbine. A 600-kilowatt turbine is already operating in Otis at company Williams Stone.

The debate over wind power in Western Massachusetts is destined to continue, as Governor Deval Patrick and his administration have set a goal of developing 2,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity by 2020.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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