Saturday, May 25, 2013
FREEDOM -- For the past four years, the wind turbines atop Beaver Ridge have been churning out power. Residents near the wind farm say the spinning blades are disturbingly loud, but in recent years debate about the development has been relatively quiet.
In late April, a series of events at Town Hall unearthed deep resentments that span six years.
The newest sticking point is regulation. Since 2007, there has been no ordinance to regulate industrial wind projects in the town, and Beaver Ridge project was built without any guidelines. In particular, there were no rules on how close the towers could be built to homes.
Now, the town's planning board is drafting a wind ordinance that addresses the issue of setbacks, and other rules for any future wind development in Freedom. Those rules could limit potential upgrades to the existing turbines. The ordinance will be presented to voters later this year.
There are no current plans for new wind development in Freedom, but an early draft of the ordinance was met with sharp criticism from the board of selectmen.
The drama played out during three consecutive town council meetings.
First, on April 16, First Selectman Ron Price announced that the selectmen would draft their own wind ordinance because the planning board's draft was too restrictive.
A week later on April 23, about 30 residents packed Town Hall to express their anger over the selectman's move. Many claimed Price was acting with his own interests in mind, because Price owns 76 acres of land atop Beaver Ridge. Price leases his land to the wind company and earns monthly royalties; no other landowners have a stake in the Beaver Ridge Wind project.
On April 30, the board of selectmen bowed to public pressure and backed away from creating its own ordinance. The board's reversal satisfied many residents, but some say the future of regulation remains uncertain: Will voters agree to an ordinance that could prevent future wind projects in the town?
Supporters of wind power say the benefits of renewable energy should override some residents' concerns about visual impact or noise. Opponents say the wind turbines generate too little power to justify their invasive presence, and they say Price's actions are driven by personal income, not environmentalism.
Living in the shadow
Thirteen years ago, Jeff Keating bought 10 acres of land near the top of Beaver Ridge for its expansive, unspoiled view of the western mountains. He said he built a dream home on the site for his wife and three children -- a classic cape-style house that closely mimics early-American features.
Keating, 44, said he wanted the house "to look like it had been here for centuries."
Keating may have succeeded in creating a tableau of Colonial times on his land, but the land directly to the east is now distinctly modern.
Eight years after the Keatings moved in, three 400-foot towers arrived.
About 1,600 feet away from Keating's house looms the closest of the three Beaver Ridge Wind towers. In the morning, sunlight shines through the spinning 100-foot-long tower blades and creates a dizzying strobe-light effect within his house, a phenomenon called blade flicker. And throughout the day, and particularly at night when cooling air settles downward on the ridge, the blades create a penetrating sound.
"It sounds like a plane keeps flying over my house and never goes away," said Keating, a former resident of Long Island, N.Y. "I chose Freedom to get away from the craziness of New York, and found it here instead."
The craziness, he said, is not only from the industrial sights and sounds of the towers. It also comes from the political landscape that fostered the wind project and continues to advocate on its behalf, he said.
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