HEATH - Speaking as if with one voice, 96 special town meeting voters quickly and unanimously approved the Planning Board's zoning bylaw amendment banning "industrial scale" wind turbines from being built within town borders.
"Well, that was easy," said Town Moderator Doug Wilkins, who had worried a minute earlier about being able to discern a two-thirds majority voice vote. "It's very clear this was a decision made by the whole town."
The audience cheered after the measure passed, and they gave a standing ovation to the town's Renewable Energy Advisory Committee, which had spent the past year researching the issue.
Before the vote was taken, Planning Board Chairman Calvin Carr gave a brief presentation about why wind turbines taller than 100 feet shouldn't be allowed in town.
In a hilly terrain like Heath's, said Carr, the advisory committee recommended that any commercial-scale wind facility be located at least 2 miles from residential areas, to minimize noise disturbances, flicker and possible property devaluation , or health complaints that have been reported by residents in Falmouth, and now in Florida and Monroe.
"Safe setbacks cannot be achieved in Heath," he said.
In weighing out the pros and cons, Carr said no towns in Massachusetts are collecting taxes for commercial wind facilities, but are instead getting PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) funds. He said the average commercial wind turbine, costing $3 million, is netting host communities about $13,000 in PILOT funds. But if property values of homes within 2 miles of the turbines drop, the benefit of increased revenues could be canceled out by the decrease in home valuations.
Carr said the board tried to "balance the needs of commercial wind with those of the citizens and property owners of Heath," but was unable to come up with a way to make commercial wind generation feasible while keeping them far enough away from homes.
The town allows small-scale wind turbines for home, farm or business use, with a maximum height of 100 feet.
After the Planning Board spoke, Wilkins invited anyone opposed to the wind turbine ban to give their views, but no one came forward.
Among those who came to watch the meeting were Irving and Rosalyn Mullette, both 75, of Tilda Hill Road, Florida. "Good for Heath," was all Mrs. Mullette said.
A few weeks ago, the Mullettes had hosted a news conference with several of their neighbors who have been unhappy with the nine new Hoosac Wind Project turbines that have been built up their road, in Monroe. They and others have complained to the Department of Environmental Protection about noise disturbances and an increase in headaches they believe are a result of that noise.
MassDEP has been tracking complaints from residents and has asked Iberdrola Renewables, the Hoosac Wind developer, to submit a plan for performing noise monitoring. "We are working with the company to ensure the plan will evaluate conditions around the turbines. We expect to finalize that plan shortly and then the company will begin monitoring," said a statement from the DEP.