Siting Council hears pleas


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PROSPECT — Supporters and opponents of Wind Prospect finally got their chance to plead their case before the Siting Council.
The Connecticut Siting Council came to Prospect last week to get a first-hand look at the site for two proposed wind turbines off of Kluge Road.

“This gives us an idea what’s here-wetlands, vistas-all those things that anyone would consider just looking at the land itself,” said
Daniel Caruso, chairman of the council, following a walk through of the site Feb. 23.

Dozens of people, including neighbors opposed to the project holding signs, greeted the council as they pulled down Kluge Road and made the trek with them through snow and mud for a look at where the proposed turbines will stand.

Currently, the site is a wooded area, with trees marked off for the location of what would be a 35-foot road leading to the turbines, and the sites for each proposed 492-foot-tall, 1.5-megawatt turbine staked out with signs that simply read ‘turbine 1’ and ‘turbine 2’.
BNE Energy Inc. of West Hartford has proposed the two turbines, and along with six more in Colebrook. The council is currently reviewing the company’s applications, which, if approved, would bring the first wind turbines to Connecticut.

Although the project would be a first for the state, Caruso said the council treated the walk through as it would for any other application. The only thing the council did differently was take a tour of the surrounding neighborhood, stopping at residential homes to get view of the proposed site from the neighborhood.

The walk through kicked off a long two-day process of hearings in which those for and against the project made their feelings known to the council.

“The situation my family finds itself in is nothing short of surreal,” Prospect resident Sherry Sargeant, who lives near the proposed site, told the council during a public hearing following the walk through.

Sargeant expressed fears that her family will no longer be able to spend time in their peaceful backyard if the project is approved.

Sargeant was one of about 500 hundred people to attend the hearing at Long River Middle School. Despite emotions running high on both sides, the mood was respectful at hearing.

Opponents of the project spoke on their concerns the turbines would ruin their quality of life and endanger homes and residents nearby the site due to the noise, ice being thrown from the turbine blades and shadow flicker- a strobe effect caused from sunlight passing through the moving blades.

“These structures are going to be too close to homes and need to be set back. There are people with health issues such as seizure disorders and brain cancer whose quality of life will surely be impacted,” said Prospect resident Rebecca Stamat, who lives in the neighborhood near the proposed turbines.

Jeff Sarnelli, who lives about a mile away from the proposed site, said that he couldn’t build a shed in his backyard because it was too close to his neighbor’s property.

“When we’re looking at these wind turbine projects, we’re talking about two, nearly 500 foot structures that will have hundreds of homes and a major road in their shadows,” Sarnelli said.

Although those opposed to the project made their presence felt, not everyone from Prospect spoke out against the turbines. Local advocates of the plan cited the benefits of Green energy, the tax revenue it would bring to Prospect, and the need to lessen the United State’s dependence on foreign oil.

Debra Hankey, a Prospect resident who lives within a mile of the proposed site, said she found turbines to be clean, safe and quiet. She said she often visits her aunt on Martha’s Vineyard, whose home is a stone’s throw from a wind turbine.

“What are we waiting for? By putting Green energy on the back burner, we are crippling our economy, our growth, our tourism, and more importantly, our education system. … As a mother, I feel powerless against a poor economy, a country dependant on foreign oil, and a state that is resistant at best to putting turn key wind projects in place. We cannot afford to turn our backs on a project like Wind Prospect. This could very well be the catalyst for a better future for all of us here in Prospect and in Connecticut,” Hankey said.

Woodland Regional High School student and Prospect resident Angela Vallillo spoke about the need for green energy to protect the environment.

“Approval of this project is one step closer to ensuring my future and the future of my peers,” Vallillo said.

The day following the hearing, the council began the evidentiary hearing process in which parties granted permission by the council put forth their testimony for and against the project.

The evidentiary hearing began with testimony from BNE.

Representatives of BNE addressed questions from the council regarding noise, ice throw and shadow flicker.

Thomas Wholley, director of Air Quality Noise Services at Vanasse, Hagen, and Brustlin, Inc. said that the turbines would meet Department of Environmental Protection guidelines for noise for day and night when the wind was blowing at 9 meters per second. He said that the sound from the turbine wouldn’t increase above that speed and factoring in background noise wouldn’t significantly change the overall noise level.

As for ice throw, BNE representatives argued that the chance of ice being throw form a turbine blade and hitting a home was slim to none.

Pierre Heraud, of the project development team-North America for Garrad Hassan America, Inc. said in a worse-case scenario, one kilogram of ice could be thrown 275 meters. Two neighborhood homes are within that range. However, Heraud said there is no statistical probability that they would strike a house. The figure used in the study, he said, was for 100-foot blades, whereas BNE will probably use 82-foot blades.

Marilyn and Fred Bonyai, both residents of Prospect, express their concerns about the proposed wind turbines.

Heraud said the most dangerous time would be the first hour after a turbine is turned back on after icing.

Paul Corey, chair of BNE, assured the council that there was no chance of this happening because the company would monitor the turbines and shut them off in icing conditions. He said the company would make sure there was always someone on site to visually check the turbines before restarting them after icing.

“The chance of ice throw beyond 255 meters is nil,” Corey said.

Company representatives downplayed the impact of shadow flicker on the surrounding neighborhood.

Michael Libertine, director of environmental services at Vanasse Hangen, Brustlin, Inc., said that shadow flicker could affect 860 homes. However, he said only three buildings, including one office building, would be subject to this effect for over 30 hours per year. The effect would never last for more than an hour at a time, and would only occur during the winter months when there is less cover from trees, he said.

“We feel strongly that the number we’ve presented here is an over-estimation,” Libertine said.

Libertine said the effect could be mitigated with the use of blinds on windows and planting additional trees, such as evergreens, which would block the effect all year.

There was only enough time for BNE to present testimony to the council last week. Three more evidentiary hearings, which will include full cross examination by each party, were scheduled beginning this Wednesday in New Britain.

There was a mutual feeling of content from BNE and opponents following the hearings late last week.

“We are very pleased with the support expressed by local residents, and from across Connecticut, for Wind Prospect at the Siting Council public hearings. This is a thorough process and we feel confident that when the council reviews the public hearing testimony and our detailed proposal, that they will conclude that we have addressed safety, sound and health concerns, and that this project is a good one for the community and for Connecticut’s energy future,” Greg Zupkus, president & CEO of BNE, said in a prepared statement.

Tim Reilly, president of the turbine opposition group Save Prospect Corp., felt the hearings went incredibly well.
“I’m just feeling real good right now,” Reilly said.

Reilly said people feel like the turbines are an imposition on their rights and came out to make their voices heard.

“I think the Siting Council got a clear message from the town,” Reilly said.

Reilly said his group has 29 witnesses to provide testimony to the council and 2,000 pages of documents to support their case. He felt when the process is over the council will conclude the application needs to be denied.

“We believe that we’ll get a fair hearing here,” Reilly said. “That makes me feel very good.”

Siting Council Chairman Daniel Caruso, left, and the council’s attorney Melanie Bachman listen intently during a Feb. 23 public hearing on the Wind Prospect proposal. PHOTO BY LARAINE WESCHLER

Even as the hearing process continues, state legislators are debating a moratorium which would block the council from acting on applications for wind turbine projects until regulations are adopted.

If approved, BNE feels the bill would stall the project for a year, ultimately killing the project.

While the bill lingers in Hartford, a deadline for the Siting Council to rule on BNE’s application draws closer each day. By law, the council must act on an application within 180 days, which sets the deadline to rule on the turbine projects at May 17.

“The biggest thing that everyone has to remember is we have a time limit,” Caruso said.