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In Kingston, neighbors press for wind turbine testing

(Bill Greene/Globe Staff/File)
By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / June 14, 2012
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Kingston homeowners near four industrial wind turbines say the whirring blades are causing health issues ranging from ringing ears and chronic headaches to vertigo and sleep disturbance, and they want officials to shut down the wind machines while noise measurement is done.

“We’re working on two fronts,” said Tim Dwyer, who owns a home on Country Club Way, about 1,700 feet from Kingston businesswoman Mary O’Donnell’s three turbines. “We’d like the zoning board to shut the turbines down and start the review process over again, since we don’t think it was done correctly the first time.”

Dwyer said he and his neighbors are also asking the town to conduct tests “to see that residents and the kids at the local school are protected.” The town’s elementary and intermediate schools are about 2,000 feet from O’Donnell’s turbines and a fourth machine belonging to the town.

The local zoning board is scheduled to consider the residents’ request regarding the review process when it meets next Wednesday, according to its agenda. Town Planner Thomas Bott and members of the Green Energy Committee, meanwhile, are working with the School Department to set up a discussion next month on the health concerns.

The residents’ initiative comes after the state Department of Environmental Protection recently conducted noise studies on turbines in Falmouth, prompted by complaints in that town, and determined that at least one windmill was too noisy. Falmouth Town Manager Julian Suso said selectmen shut down the Wind I and Wind II turbines from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., due to noise issues with Wind I. The board also shut down Wind I during daytime hours for a 30-day period, only running it at times when the state was doing noise measurement. The 30-day period ends Friday. Suso said the machine will then resume its day schedule but continue to remain shut down at night, pending further findings.

“I think Falmouth has at least raised awareness we could have the same issues here,” Dwyer said. “Even Senator Therese Murray has had concerns. She sent a letter to Plymouth officials recently saying these things don’t belong in residential areas.”

But Kingston officials, as well as O’Donnell, say they will need convincing.

“Anything new that happens frightens people,” O’Donnell said in an interview Monday. She said many people lodged similar health complaints more than 100 years ago about the newly invented telephone.

“I also think some complain to get attention and others because they have nothing else to do,” she said. “I think it’s one in a million that have real sensitivity.” The businesswoman said she believes their concern is chiefly about property values.

“I think these people should be careful or they really will devalue their properties,” O'Donnell said.

At a forum last week organized by a turbine opposition group called Kingston Wind Aware, a Prospect Street couple, Sean and Doreen Reilly, said the town’s wind turbine, called “Independence,” was keeping them and their three children awake. Sean Reilly characterized the sound as a “pounding” during certain weather conditions.

“During a recent windstorm it was so loud, I thought it was going to fly away,” he said.

Bott visited the Reilly home in response to their complaints and reported he heard minimal noise from the machine.

“I heard something, but I would characterize it as a ‘sound’ rather than a ‘noise’ that startles you,” Bott said in an interview Monday. “In spite of the fact that we had to crane our ears to hear it, Doreen’s telling us it’s keeping her awake.”

The Reillys’ calls to the town prompted health agent Henny Walters to secure a complaint form for residents from the state, Bott said. The form requires the complainant to log the time of day, weather conditions, and wind direction. The town will keep a copy and forward another to the Department of Environmental Protection.

Agency spokesman Ed Coletta said the department would require considerable evidence of a problem before it conducts a test.

“It’s something we’d certainly take a look at if local officials should seek it from DEP,” Coletta said. “But we’d need very detailed information as far as deciding if there should be a test.”

In Falmouth, four different tests were conducted from five locations, based on the complaints residents filed, Coletta said. Fairhaven’s Board of Health has now contacted the state to discuss similar testing on a turbine in that town.

At last Thursday’s forum, panelist John Cowl, a Duxbury child and adolescent psychiatrist, took issue with the state for a wind turbine study it released last spring, saying it merely looked at existing data rather than generating any of its own.

“It’s about time we took some clean energy money to find out what’s going on,” Cowl said. “The same complaints are coming from all over the world regarding wind turbines. These people don’t know each other, and I don’t think they’re making it up.”

Mark Beaton, chairman of the Kingston Green Energy Committee, told the forum that his panel has some money for a local study. “I will do everything in my power to get the right information for the town,” he said, adding that the conclusions will be “based on science.”

O’Donnell gave her cellphone number to several turbine neighbors the same night. “If you say it’s that bad, I want to hear it for myself,” she said at the forum. “I don’t care if it’s two in the morning.”

On Monday, O’Donnell said she had yet to receive any calls.

Christine Legere can be reached at

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