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Fight over Scituate's wind turbine heats up as Town Meeting draws closer

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  March 26, 2013 05:22 PM

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The ongoing battle over Scituate's industrial wind turbine appears headed for the upcoming Town Meeting, as opponents and proponents step up their arguments over what is fact and what is fiction in the debate.

The argument over whether the turbine is causing health effects has been underway since early 2012, when the turbine was turned on and residents first started complaining of health problems.

Yet with Town Meeting likely to consider a petition to bring the turbine down, both sides have grown more adamant in their opinions.

“We know for a fact that those who haven’t been paying attention, if they have accurate information provided to them on the noise and strobe emanating, and it’s impact on health, [and] you have third party industry experts supporting us, it’s the real story,” said Tom Thompson, a spokesman for the affected residents. “And the more people that become aware, they realize this isn’t an issue of people making stuff up.”

Thompson and several other residents hosted a community meeting on March 23 to convince residents of their side of the story.

To help, residents hosted a skype conversation with an acoustical engineer – Rick James from E-Coustics, a company in Michigan – to discuss turbine problems. That presentation was followed up by the personal account of resident Mark McKeever, who lives closest to the turbine, and then followed by a presentation by Dr. Jeffrey Silver with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, who specializes in sleep medicine.

Approximately 100 people attended a resident-sponsored community meeting, available on YouTube, Thompson said.

Over the next couple of weeks, Thompson said the group plans to keep reaching out to people to make them aware of the health problems residents are suffering. The group aims to get Town Meeting to pass a petition to get the turbine taken town.

Though residents initially said they were hosting the meeting to dispel misinformation being promoted by turbine proponents, turbine owner Gordon Deane said it is exactly that misinformation that is problematic.

“What’s concerning to us is, I just finished watching the two hours of it on YouTube. It’s a lot of inaccurate information about the project and about its operating and about the permitting,” Deane said.

Deane said that though the community group is obviously welcome to hold meetings, that in the end, these gatherings will do more harm than good.

Most notably, people begin suffering from what Deane has called the “nocebo” effect, a type of placebo effect that people suffer from when someone suggests they should be negatively affected.

Deane said two recently released studies, including a lab study, indicate that this phenomenon is true.

“The misinformation campaign, trying to get people riled up and trying to make people give complaints for health effects, to a large extent it’s causing the health impacts themselves,” Deane said.

Deane furthermore said the turbine opponents have misrepresented themselves even in regards to the meeting, that video shows about 40 people attended the discussion, and that their "wind expert" is notably biased, being on the board of the Society for Wind Vigilance, an anti wind group.

Regardless of what people say, the science behind the turbine is still ongoing. Board of Health members will interview two engineering firms – Tech Environmental and Noise Control Engineering – with the hopes of starting a study within the next two months.

As for the Town Meeting vote, Town Administrator Patricia Vinchesi has said that it would not be binding, though what that means proponents are waiting to see.

“It’s of a concern that they are trying to do this…I don’t know what, if any, effect that has,” Deane said.

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