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Neighbors sue over wind turbine

By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / March 31, 2011

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COHASSET — A Cohasset skilled nursing center and a small band of Hingham homeowners have filed a joint lawsuit in Boston Land Court aimed at overturning a special permit the Cohasset Planning Board recently granted for a wind turbine project on conservation land.

The Trustees of Reservations, a Sharon-based nonprofit that oversees a large tract on Turkey Hill spanning Hingham and Cohasset borders, plans to construct the 410-foot, 1.8-megawatt turbine in a part of Whitney Thayer Woods surrounded by Hingham neighborhoods. Trustees would turn it over to Conservation Wind, a corporation it created to handle the operation.

Boston attorney Damon Seligson, representing Golden Living Center in Cohasset and the Hingham project opponents, says the turbine does not meet the standards of Cohasset’s wind turbine bylaw and therefore can’t be permitted. The “fatal flaw,’’ Seligson says, is the amount of flicker — moving shadows created by rotating blades — that the 200 elderly residents at the Golden Living Center would be subjected to each year. The center is less than 1,000 feet from the tower site.

The industry standard for acceptable flicker is 30 hours annually. Golden Living residents would experience about 100 hours, according to specialists reviewing the plan. Effects from flicker include dizziness, nausea, and loss of balance. Some believe flicker, in rare cases, can cause seizures. To address the issue, Cohasset’s Planning Board has required post-construction monitoring of flicker as a condition of the special permit; whenever abutters experience more than 30 minutes per day or 30 hours a year of flicker, the turbine would be temporarily shut down.

Seligson says after-the-fact remedies won’t result in the project meeting Cohasset’s bylaw.

“The bylaw does not allow the Planning Board to attach conditions to a special permit to mitigate the adverse flicker and shadowing effects caused by a wind turbine,’’ he says in the lawsuit. “Rather, the bylaw requires the board to find that a proposed turbine will not be sited in a manner that will result in significant shadowing or flicker impacts.’’

The suit includes effects Hingham neighbors expect in addition to flicker, such as noise, loss of property value, and disruption during construction. The wind tower would require trucking in 267 tons of building material and 1,000 tons of concrete through Hingham neighborhoods.

Charles Dale, a Hingham resident who has joined the suit, said the Cohasset Planning Board ignored concerns voiced during its hearings. “The Planning Board seemed more interested in the fact that the town had voted [for] the wind turbine bylaw than they were about the 100 hours of flicker it would cause,’’ Dale said.

The turbine, the first permitted under Cohasset’s wind energy bylaw, is expected to produce about 5 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually. Some would be used to power 17 Trustees properties connected to the area grid, according to Greater Boston director Stephen Sloan. The remainder would be sold to the grid. The $400,000 to $500,000 it is expected to produce in annual gross revenue would go toward the project’s $5 million to $6 million cost, Sloan said.

Trustees say the project is well within their mission of resource conservation. In an e-mail last Monday, Sloan said his organization is reviewing the appeal.

“We remain committed to responsible siting and clean production of renewable energy in order to create more sustainable communities,’’ he wrote. “Our goal is to show that we can reduce reliance on harmful fossil fuels . . . and we are acting to protect the nature of our properties and the Massachusetts landscape for everyone, forever.’’

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.