MONTPELIER — A group of protesters who believe noise from industrial wind turbines is damaging to human health brought their message to the capital Tuesday.
The group made their stance against wind projects in Vermont loud and clear with signs, songs and testimony from one family, the Therriens of Sheffield, about what it’s like to live near the towering turbines.
Inside the Pavilion Building on State Street, in the auditorium, a workshop was held Tuesday by the Vermont Public Service Board, where the board took testimony from experts as part of an investigation “into the potential establishment of standards related to sound levels from the operation of generation, transmission and distribution equipment by entities subject to Public Service Board jurisdiction,” according to the information posted on the PSB’s calendar.
According to a memo sent to those taking part in the Energy Facility Sound Investigation by the PSB, the event was the third in a series of workshops in Docket 8167, and the workshop was “dedicated to hearing presentations that address scientific literature and studies regarding the potential public health and wildlife impacts from sound emitted from energy facilities.”
Among those scheduled to present were representatives of the Vermont Department of Public Health, Sandy Reider of Newark, a doctor representing Renewable Energy Vermont, representatives from the Vermont Department of Public Service, and the Agency of Natural Resources, among others.
One of the people testifying was Dhyan Nirmegh, who compiled a report with Roger Irwin and Fred Person titled “Use of Ears and Auditory Senses of Animals Living in the Woods of the Vermont Mountains.”
A Starksboro resident, Nirmegh is the co-author of a self-published booklet titled “Impact of Industrial Wind Development on Wildlife and Ridgeline Habitat.”
Nirmegh stated in his report, “There are hundreds of species of birds, bats, animals and amphibians that are affected” by wind noise. “And yet I have yet to see any detailed studies of animal hearing and the effects of high frequency sound, low frequency sound and infrasound upon them. If doctors say there is even a slight chance of people getting heart disease, what is it doing to our wildlife?”
The procedural order for the workshop noted that in December of last year, the board “opened an investigation into the issue of appropriate sound standards” applicable to wind projects in the state.
Most of those protesting on the street outside the PSB workshop, a demonstration for which they had obtained a permit, according to Kathleen Nelson of Brighton, were from towns in the Northeast Kingdom area that is home to two industrial wind projects in Lowell and in Sheffield. The region also battled a would-be third wind project that developers had their sights on for the towns of Newark, Brighton and Ferdinand, part of the Unified Towns and Gores in the upper reaches of the Kingdom.
That project, Seneca Mountain Wind LLC, proposed by Eolian Renewable Energy LLC of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was recently withdrawn from consideration — a victory hailed by opponents on Tuesday.
But many of the residents of those towns are continuing to join their neighbors who say they are suffering the effects of living near the industrial wind turbines, including Luann and Steve Therrien, of Sheffield, and their two pre-school-aged children. The couple has been pleading for help from the state, the town’s Select Board and First Wind of Boston, the company that owns and operates that wind project, for several years, to no avail.
Steve Therrien was among those on hand at the two-hour protest on State Street in Montpelier.
While officials in the small Northeast Kingdom community of Newark have said they are relieved their town is no longer being eyed by the out-of-state developer, Kim Fried, chairman of the planning commission, was on hand on Tuesday at the protest, calling attention to the concern he says has many Vermonters suffering conditions no one should be exposed to.
“We’re delighted that after two-plus years of being tortured by Eolian and the stress and constant disruption and the tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars, we’re happy that they’re leaving the three towns,” he said.
John Soininen, vice president of development for Eolian/Seneca Mountain Wind, in an email Tuesday about the company’s plans for Vermont, stated, “I have no further comments.”
While the fight against the proposed Seneca Mountain Wind project is over for Newark, town officials and residents there are continuing to pledge to help other Vermont towns wage battle against big wind in Vermont, vowed Fried, joined by his wife, Nancy, town selectman John Lewandowski and Claire Van Vliet — all of whom are active in the Newark Neighbors United effort that took on the proposed development and fought hand-in-hand with the town to try to prevent the wind project from altering life in their small, scenic town.
“We’ll continue to do whatever we can to protect Vermont’s citizens from corporations,” vowed Fried.
Also on hand was Sheffield Planning Commission member Keith Ballek, one of the Lowell Six, a group of wind protesters arrested at the Green Mountain Power Lowell Mountain wind project in August 2012 — a case which went to the Vermont Supreme Court.
Ballek has accompanied Steve Therrien to meetings of the Sheffield Select Board trying to help the family get assistance with the conditions they are living in, which have left the family ill and struggling to live normal lives at the property that has been in Steve’s family for decades.
The couple has asked First Wind for a buyout, and asked the town for help with a down payment to get out — Sheffield takes in more than a half-million dollars a year in supplemental payments and taxes on the wind project there — but no financial help to get them out has come through, said Steve Therrien on Tuesday. He said about six weeks ago, First Wind offered the family an unspecified “token” amount as damages, but they want a buyout to start over.
John Lamontagne, spokesman for First Wind, said the company was not testifying at Tuesday’s workshop in Montpelier. To Steve Therrien’s claim that the firm had recently offered some payment to the family, he said “We have no comment.”
Asked what the protest outside the PSB workshop on Tuesday was focused upon, Ballek responded, “We’re protesting the whole process.”
Also taking part in the protest were several members of the Bread & Puppet troupe from Glover, also in the Northeast Kingdom, who helped Steve Therrien to put a few lines of his family’s suffering to song, with some instruments playing along, adding to the protest’s interest as people rushed by on their lunch hour.
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