Update/ Our Year End Summary – 2011

Here is a review of important events of the past year for neighbors of the industrial wind turbines on Vinalhaven, ME.

Last August, FIWN (Fox Islands Wind Neighbors) appealed in Superior Court against the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). For two years, neighbors of the Vinalhaven wind turbines fought for restoration of the peace and quiet they used to enjoy.

The neighbors sought … to obtain compliance on the violation of state noise standards. Fox Islands Wind repeatedly mischaracterized the effort by neighbors who, as a result, endured and continue to endure a well-organized campaign to minimize the troubles and expenses shouldered by neighbors whose property, through no fault of their own, is close to the industrial wind turbines.

We are still waiting to learn if Superior Court will provide neighbors with an avenue of judicial appeal. DEP and Fox Islands Wind are objecting, arguing that the 2008 Wind Energy Act provides no legal recourse to plaintiffs. (For a good backgrounder though written in 2010, read Pine Tree Watchdog here.)

Our suit alleges that the DEP regulatory decision on the Vinalhaven wind turbine noise was politically motivated and, moreover, ignored the recommendations of staff. Some DEP staff members have since been re-assigned or resigned as a result of unprecedented political interference.

The neighbors had diligently worked and invested considerable efforts and money to improve noise evaluation and analysis that the state’s own experts discovered to be deficient. Some Vinalhaven residents think that the neighbors have sued the town or FIW. That is not true. We sued the state of Maine for denying due process; a right every citizen ought to believe is worth protecting.

We don’t use the term “politically motivated” carelessly: our search of records from the Governor’s Office shows Fox Islands Wind imploring the Governor’s Office to block DEP staff who had proposed an amendment to the FIW permit allowing for a more equitable way to address the noise issue on Vinalhaven. FIW is entitled to its own opinion, but not its own facts.

In October, the Maine BEP recommended lowering the night time noise level to 42 dBA for all new wind turbine projects. The difficulties on Vinalhaven and other early Maine turbine locations substantially guided the amended policy determination. More recently, Maine’s LURC decided that a new wind farm should operate at a night time level of 40 dBA at the nearest property line. Fox Islands Wind operates, in its opinion, at night time 45 decibel level (A weighted) and the daytime 55 dBA limit. Neighbors close to the turbine know that FIW is not sharing data because the turbines continue to run out of compliance.

With respect to the pending matter in Superior Court, Fox Islands Wind, through its attorney Pierce Atwood, writes: “Petitioners (are not) bereft of any remedy as they claim. First they can complain to their town authorities—the ordinary avenue for relief for any other small-scale project.”

How a complaint to town authorities would work is not up for debate. Local Vinalhaven selectmen cannot deal with the complexity of the noise issue and will continue to defer in all matters to Fox Islands Wind. Pierce Atwood’s attorney adds, “Second, like any other land owner and as to any other project, small or large scale, nothing would foreclose Petitioners from suing for nuisance—if they had reasonable grounds for so complaining under established law.”

Offensive as it may be to suggest the neighbors sue for their rights, Pierce Atwood knows that the next step of litigation is much more costly than anything that has come before.

In the meantime the wind turbines churn noisily, threatening the health, property values and spirit of an island community. It takes a lot of “greenwashing” to ignore what is happening to property owners near the wind turbines. DEP staff – only months ago—recommended that Fox Islands Wind reach out to neighbors to discuss legitimate grievances and options. The noise continues but FIW is silent.

Neighbors on Vinalhaven and some other early turbine locations in Maine like Mars Hill are a “test” for the wind turbine industry. The results of that test are clear—at least so far as wind turbine noise are concerned: if developers can overcome a few unfortunate victims of wind turbine noise, there is money to be made. Many communities in Maine are turning away from industrial wind. Restrictive ordinances approved by Maine citizens on and since Election Day last month include Frankfort, Deer Isle, Caratunk, Peru (Moratorium, not ordinance), Brooksville, Cushing, and Rumford. Mainers are smart enough to see for themselves what happened here and can think for themselves: eight recent votes on wind power…eight votes against wind power.

The neighbors’ case to Superior Court will likely be heard in January or February, 2012. Until that time, interested observers ought to question the claims of how much money has been “saved” by industrial wind power on Vinalhaven. If power prices have been declining, why are utility bill costs going up. We asked FIW for specific detail. No answer. Hopefully other Vinalhaven residents will have better luck finding out why their electric rates have increased so dramatically.

Our best wishes for a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.

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