“I have to move away” (Massachusetts)

Aug 3, 2010

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“I have headaches and my head is spinning. My wife wakes up crying her head off. We don’t know what to do.”

Click here for original article, titled “Turbine noise ruffling feathers in Falmouth”

—Aaron Gouveia (8/1/10)

Falmouth — Neil and Elizabeth Andersen prefer open windows to air conditioning, but their home is now hermetically sealed despite the warm and breezy weather.

Although Neil, 57, and Elizabeth, 53, have spent more than 20 years enjoying Falmouth’s fresh air and working in their meticulous gardens on Blacksmith Shop Road, they now remain indoors and devote effort to blocking out the constant noise emanating from Wind I, the 400-foot-tall, 1.65-megawatt wind turbine whirling less than 1,500 feet from their front door.

What started out as a welcomed clean energy source has now become a public health issue, Neil Andersen said, and will only get worse when a second identical turbine on the same parcel becomes operational in the next six months.

“We’re seriously thinking about selling our home and getting out of here,” Andersen said. “I have headaches and my head is spinning. My wife wakes up crying her head off. We don’t know what to do.”

On Friday, Neil Andersen said his wife’s doctor told the couple Elizabeth has already suffered at least some hearing damage. She is scheduled to see a specialist in two weeks and was also given a prescription to combat vertigo.

The couple believes the cause of their medical maladies is the noise from the turbine, which they say has left them with dizziness, headaches and many sleepless nights.

The $4.3 million town-owned turbine began whirling in March. Since then, town officials say they have received “sporadic complaints” about noise from a handful of neighbors, usually when wind speeds increase.

The turning blades are visible through the trees from the Andersens’ house. On Thursday, with westerly winds blowing at approximately 12 mph, the sound of the turbine was audible, but tamer than usual, the Andersens said.

Described as alternating between the “sound of a hovering jet that never lands” and a pronounced “whooshing” noise during periods of higher winds, Neil Andersen said he wears noise-reducing headphones while in his yard and has installed fountains in his garden to drown out the noise from the turbine.

Elizabeth Andersen sleeps with multiple fans going and simultaneously listens to a white noise machine. Neil Andersen said the only way he can sleep is to retreat to the basement.

The Andersens have complained to selectmen, the board of health, zoning officials and, on Thursday, even attempted to file a battery complaint against the turbine at the Falmouth Police Station.

Barry Funfar, a 63-year-old veteran and Ridgeview Drive resident who lives roughly 1,700 feet from the turbine, suffered from post traumatic stress disorder before the turbine’s installations, but he said the noise from the windmill is exacerbating his condition.

What’s worse, it is also driving a wedge between Funfar and his wife because she does not want to move from the home they’ve shared for 30 years.

“My doctor tells me there’s no way I’ll be able to cope living next to that windmill,” Funfar said. “I have to face it. I have to move away.”

But Dr. Robert McCunney, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Biological Engineering and a staff physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, spoke in Bourne last month and said studies have not shown a link between low-frequency sound from wind turbines and adverse health effects.

McCunney, who did not return a phone call seeking comment, said last month that the “swish, swish” of the blades rotating through the air causes only annoyance among people who live near turbines.

Dr. Michael A. Nissenbaum, a diagnostic radiologist at the Northern Maine Medical Center, disagrees with McCunney.

Nissenbaum spearheaded a pilot study in Mars Hill, Maine, in which he examined people living within 3,500 feet of 27 1.5-megawatt turbines, and compared them with people of similar demographics who lived three miles away.

He found the 22 people living nearest to the turbines took four times as many new or increased prescription medications, and also suffered higher incidences of sleep deprivation.

“The question then becomes, ‘Do industrial-sized wind turbines placed close to people’s homes result in chronic sleep disturbances?’ The answer is an unequivocal yes,” Nissenbaum said.

Nissenbaum recommended any turbine of more than 1.5-megawatts should be at least 7,000 feet away from homes.

Back in Falmouth, Town Manager Robert Whritenour said he is aware of the noise complaints and the town has taken steps to mitigate the problem.

The Wind I turbine automatically shuts off when wind speeds reach 22 mph, Whritenour said, to reduce turbine noise when it is loudest. The town also hired Harris Miller Miller & Hanson Inc. of Burlington to conduct a sound study, the results of which will be released in the next two weeks, Whritenour said.

According to state Department of Environmental Protection air pollution and quality guidelines, a source of sound violates noise regulations when it increases the ambient sound level by more than 10 decibels.

The baseline noise level varies depending on the location.

Christopher Senie, a Westboro-based attorney representing 14 Blacksmith Shop Road neighbors, said noise tests should have been conducted earlier and he criticized town officials for skirting their own zoning requirements.

Senie said erecting a turbine in an industrial zone should have required a special permit process through the Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals. But Senie said town officials mistakenly believe the special act of the Legislature authorizing the town to build and finance the turbine gave them a “free pass” regarding the special permit. “Towns are not exempt from their own zoning laws,” he said.

When asked about the special permit, Whritenour said, “I’m not going to get into that,” and he stressed that the project went through a detailed permitting process and followed all necessary rules “step by step.”

Senie and his clients met with the board of health recently to air their grievances. He wants to create a new health regulation regarding wind turbine noise and submit it to the board, which could then adopt it without approval from town meeting.

Falmouth Health Agent David Carignan said members of the board of health are doing independent research to familiarize themselves with the issue and will consider Senie’s suggestions.

“We’re not saying no to the people who want to talk about it,” Carignan said. “The board has not deliberated on a specific course of action other than to continue to participate in the discussion.”

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