FAIRHAVEN — Town officials’ response to state noise testing of Fairhaven’s two wind turbines is inconsistent with the data collected, according to a Standard-Times review of the data. The Board of Selectmen has put the turbine developers on 30 days’ notice for breach of contract using sound sampling data that was discarded from the Department of Environmental Protection’s study. Meanwhile, the Board of Health has ordered 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shutdowns of the turbines, despite the fact that state testing only found the turbines in violation of state law between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m.
NEW BEDFORD — Cape Wind’s federal permits list Quonset Point, R.I., as the staging area for its planned 130-turbine wind farm to be located in Nantucket Sound.
The offshore wind developer has said publicly it will use New Bedford’s South Terminal to stage its materials and equipment provided the port facility is completed within its 19-month timetable.
In order to use the new facility, Cape Wind would need to revise its construction plan with the federal Bureau of Offshore Energy Management, something it has not yet done.
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NEW BEDFORD — The seagulls behind Northern Wind’s Hassey Street facility had better luck than Bobby Ramsey Wednesday afternoon. Tucked between the fish houses north of the hurricane barrier, he sat wearing cut off jeans and a camouflage hat, holding his fishing pole and hoping a striper would take the bait.
This is how Ramsey says he makes his living, earning up to $150 per day by selling the fish he catches in the harbor to friends and family, he said. No one has ever bothered him here except the seagulls, which he called annoying because they can take the smaller fish he has to throw back in.
“The stripers I got today, they weren’t long enough to keep,” he said.
Fishing in the New Bedford Harbor is something Ramsey said he knows he’s not supposed to do. Though New Bedford is the number one fishing port in the country, fishing in the harbor itself was banned by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in 1979 because the fish can contain dangerous amounts of the cancer-causing chemicals that litter the harbor floor. Because eating the fish is dangerous, “taking” them is not allowed by state regulations.
But, Ramsey explains, “I got to eat. That’s what I care about.”
The Environmental Protection Agency states in public documents that its harbor cleanup will not be sufficient to safely allow fishing here. Simultaneously, agency officials recognize that as long as the restrictions are in place, people will continue to ignore them.
This presents a unique challenge to federal, state and city parties alike who seek to protect human health in a city that struggles with unemployment and homelessness. It’s also the ire of environmental activists who say residents have a right to a fishable harbor that they may never receive.
At an emergency meeting of the Board of Registrars Friday afternoon, Town Clerk Eileen Lowney and Town Counsel Thomas Crotty explained that poll workers swapped the envelopes for “write-in” and “hand-count” ballots Monday night, resulting in 45 votes for the health board race being counted twice.
“I doubled up a lot of these people because the machine had already counted them,” Lowney said. “There were really only two ballots to hand-count in Precinct 1.”
When voters entered their ballots into the counting machine on Monday, one of three things happened:
If the ballot was readable, the machine tallied its votes and then put it in a compartment on its right side.
If the bubbled part of the ballot was readable, but there were write-ins, the bubbled votes were tallied and then the ballot was put in a compartment on the left side of the machine for the write-ins to be counted later.
If the machine spit out the ballot and could not read it, a poll worker put the ballot in a slot in the machine where it sat in a third compartment waiting to be hand-counted.
After the polls closed, poll workers were supposed to put the write-in ballots and the hand-count ballots in envelopes labeled respectively. That’s what happened at five of the six Fairhaven precincts, but workers at Precinct 1’s polling station swapped the envelopes, officials said. So instead of counting two hand-count ballots from Precinct 1, Lowney counted 45.
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Monitoring a cranberry bog, it turns out, is a year-long process as snow melts and rain fills the bog with water that needs to be removed. How that water is removed and where it goes and what it does is the subject of an ongoing study at the test bog about cranberry farming’s effect on nitrogen pollution in the bay.
The complicated irrigation systems of cranberry bogs make monitoring their effect on the surrounding environment difficult, according to Carolyn DeMoranville, station director at the UMass test bog.
“There is a lot of manipulation involved in keeping the ideal conditions,” she said, standing at a pump monitor amid the purple-red vines and leaves of cranberry plants last Wednesday. “It gets very complex very quickly.”
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The two were waist-deep off of Nakata Avenue, on the east side of Sconticut Neck. Two weeks ago, the area opened to quahogging for the first time since it was closed by the 2002 Bouchard Oil Spill.
Miller and Wolfgang have raked the newly reopened area for a few hours per day, weather permitting, to see what they could reap from a decade’s worth of undisturbed shoreline.
“Honestly, it’s not as good as it used to be, but it never was the best area either,” Miller said.
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The CAD cell, an alternative to sending contaminated sediments off-site, would hold some of the most contaminated sediment in the harbor, according to EPA documents obtained by the Buzzards Bay Coalition through a Freedom of Information Act request that were given to The Standard-Times.
The documents include emails dating as far back as 2006 between EPA and Army Corps of Engineers officials and a 2011 Army Corps of Engineers assessment detailing the dimensions of an Upper Harbor CAD cell that Buzzards Bay Coalition President Mark Rasmussen contended is “just short of an actual contract to build it.”
Confined Aquatic Disposal (CAD) Cells are specially engineered holes to contain contaminated sediment, which have been opposed by local environmental groups who question their safety. So far, the EPA has almost exclusively publicly discussed using the technology for Superfund cleanup in the Lower Harbor. These documents outline internal planning for an Upper Harbor CAD cell by the EPA.
When asked about the documents, EPA Region 1 Administrator Curt Spalding said “There is no planning under way now for an Upper Harbor CAD cell at all.” But he said the EPA will officially consider the idea in July when it plans to reopen the Record of Decision regarding harbor cleanup.
“At that time, we would talk about different ways to remedy the harbor,” he said. “There has been no decision made whether an Upper Harbor CAD cell would be part of that discussion.”
Except North Street technically isn’t a public street.
Six years ago, when the Department of Public Works wanted to use state funding to repave the road, officials did what the town always has to do when using state funds: Prove that the street is town-owned by looking it up in a 4½-inch thick book of deeds in the Town Clerk’s Office.
“It was a formality, just to double check,” Town Planner Bill Roth recalled.
But when he looked in the book, North Street was nowhere to be found. It had never been formally accepted by the town and was therefore not a public road.
“I don’t know what happened to North Street,” Town Clerk Eileen Lowney said Thursday, looking at the same 4½-inch thick book. “But it’s not in here. If it was accepted, it would be.”
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It’s midnight on Shawmut Street, and the southwesterly wind makes the location “an optimal spot for sound testing” Fairhaven’s turbines, said Laurel Carlson, a technician with the state Department of Environmental Protection.
In front of her is a sound meter. Roughly 7 inches long, it’s shaped like an oar, with a foam ball at the skinny end protecting the microphone that points diagonally up toward the turbines. The meter’s buttons glow in the dark. It sits on a tripod on the lawn overlooking the wetlands that reflect the light of the full moon.
Above the marsh, turbine blades spin, glowing orange from lights on the nearby radio tower.
On the ground, the wind is blowing 2.3 meters per second. At the hub of the turbines, it blows 6.5 meters per second.
“Three, two, one, go,” Carlson says, and the sound sample begins.
With her is Fairhaven Wind Developer Sumul Shah, who watches a graph on his laptop showing the turbines’ power output. The computer records second-by-second data for wind speed and power output that will be compared with the noise data later.
Both Shah and Carlson are wearing headlamps, and her light bobs up and down as she looks from the meter to her clipboard, where she writes down the decibel levels.
Every five seconds over the course of five minutes, she records the numbers: 47.8, 46.6, 47.7, etc.
The whooshing of the turbine blades is distinctly audible over the breeze and the crickets. Every so often, Carlson shakes her head, and writes the letters “G” or “C” to show when gusts of wind or car noises interfere with decibel readings.
“Well, we had some interesting noises on that one,” she says after five minutes have passed.
Early morning Friday was the second round of testing Carlson has conducted on Fairhaven’s two wind turbines. Her goal is to assess whether the noise made by the turbines is 10 decibels louder than Fairhaven’s ambient sound, which would put them in violation of Massachusetts’ noise regulations.
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That’s what Fairhaven Wind Developer Sumul Shah said in May when the turbines began operating. He was trying to calm residents’ fears that the turbines would be disruptive.
It’s also what turbine neighbors have been arguing ever since; that people react differently to the turbines, which could be easily ignored by one person and keep others up at night.
“Some people do, other’s don’t,” said Windwise member Peter Goben in May, comparing the turbines to seasickness.
Now, with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection agreeing to do a sound study to determine whether the turbines are in violation of Massachusetts noise regulations, the complexities of turbine sounds will become all the more apparent.
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