By Beth David, Editor
The Fairhaven Selectboard had a meeting heavy on public comment on Monday, 8/6. The meeting was held in the town hall auditorium to accommodate the crowd, but that meant it was not cablecast live. As of press time it was not yet available online.
Approximately 60 people attended the meeting, most of them to talk about the impact that the game Pokemon Go has had on Fort Phoenix.
But not all were there for that issue. Some were there to comment on the presentation by Sumul Shah of Fairhaven Wind, LLC*, owners and operators of the two industrial wind turbines off Arsene Street.
Mr. Shah reported that the project has saved the town more than $1 million in electric costs over the last four years. He also acknowledged that the project has not made as much electricity as first projected.
Wind estimates have been below expectations, he said, but added that it is a “regional phenomenon.” He used slides showing data from Providence, which also had less wind than expected.
Still, he said the 23 million kilowatt hours created by the WTs have eliminated 17,817 tons of carbon dioxide and created $1.066 million in net income for the town. The 36.63 million pounds of CO2 eliminated is equal to 3,414 cars removed from the road annually or 1.57 million gallons of oil being consumed per year.
Mr. Shah also addressed some mechanical issues with the turbines, saying that there were no major issues with either one. He said down time was “about average.”
John Methia, a long time opponent of the WTs, said the presentation failed to mention the 700 complaints and the impact to families from noise and shadow flicker of the turbines.
He said he and his family will live with the shades drawn for the next few weeks because of shadow flicker, caused when the sun shines through the moving blades at a certain angle.
“It’s a rosy report, I understand that,” said Mr. Methia, but cautioned the board and Mr. Shah not to call it a win-win deal because it is not a win for residents who live close by.
It is not a “win-win-win,” said Mr. Methia. The project “divided the town, severed friendships,” and negatively affected families.
He said some people moved, others were not able to get enough for their houses to move.
He also questioned Mr. Shah’s statements about having no major mechanical issues with the turbines. Mr. Methia said bearing issues are a known “Achilles heel” of large WTs.
Mr. Shah insisted that the bearings only needed lubrication.
Mr. Methia countered that it was still a bearings issue.
Carolyn Young, who lives at Peirce’s Point, said that she and her whole family have had significant sleep disruptions since the turbines were installed. She said after she moved her son to a different bedroom on the other side of the house, he started sleeping better.
She also said her 10-year-old told her to make sure she mentioned that the swans and geese are gone.
Ms. Young also said she saw with her own eyes a bird getting “sucked” into the blades and getting killed.
She said there is “no way” the turbines are within the noise range they are “supposed to be to be legal.”
She said she has made many complaints to the Board of Health and to Fairhaven Wind.
“And nothing has been addressed,” said Ms. Young. “Everybody thinks the money is worth more than the people.”
“I’m glad the town has made money,” said Ms. Young, but added that it was at the expense of her family.
She said the WTs in Fairhaven are industrial and should be in an industrial area.
“They’re in marshland,” she said.
Town officials had little comment after she spoke.
Ms. Young said she was not sure what to do next, but she had not given up on trying to get relief.
Current and historical data on the wind turbines are available at http:// www.fairhavenwind.info.
In the second draw of the night, and by far the biggest, the board discussed complaints about Pokemon Go (PG) players at Fort Phoenix.
PG is an electronic game (app) that people play on their phones. The game has “stops” and puts “creatures” at various stops for people to “catch” with their phones.
The app does not necessarily send players to certain geographical areas, players find out through talking to each other on Facebook groups, and other means. Then they go to the spot where the desired creature is and wait for it to pop up on their screen. If they catch a creature, they get points. Some creatures are worth more than others. People can stay in a certain spot and wait for creatures to pop up and keep swiping to get more points.
It results in groups of people all in the same place, watching their phones for the creatures to appear, although not all are waiting for the same creatures. It depends on what level the player has achieved.
Fort Phoenix, apparently, has several stops, so does Livesey Park. The reason the fort has drawn hundreds of people, however, is that two of the creatures that were placed at the fort by the game company are very rare. So people from all around the region, including Maine and Rhode Island, have traveled to Fort Phoenix to virtually “catch” the creatures. The game is GPS enabled, so a player needs to be physically close to the stop and/or the creature.
Selectboard Chairperson Charles Murphy said his main concern was to keep Fairhaven safe.
Most complaints have been from neighbors about noise late at night and players urinating on the grounds, as there are no facilities on the town portion of Fort Phoenix. The state side (eastern end) closes at dusk, along with the bathrooms there.
The town owns the area where the cannons are and the courts. The parking lot closest to the cannons is the town lot.
The Army Corps of Engineers controls the hurricane barrier itself.
The town only has jurisdiction to regulate the town part, although police have jurisdiction to address criminal behavior everywhere.
For more than an hour, the board heard from PG players and residents. They also heard from Gary Lavalette, an Historical Commission member who volunteers as caretaker at the fort and is very vocal with park users who do not behave themselves.
Mr. Lavalette has been interviewed widely by the regional press over the issue, stating that the players have caused thousands of dollars in damage to the fort.
Players at Monday’s meeting disputed that claim, saying that no one knows who caused the damage.
The Fort has a history of issues with vandalism.
Selectboard member Daniel Freitas said the issues were “just common sense stuff,” like picking up trash, not vandalizing property, and not driving down the road looking at their phones.
Several neighbors said they no longer go to the Fort because of all the people there, even if they are just “sitting around staring at their phones.”
“It’s the weirdest thing,” said one woman who lives on Green Street. “We don’t go to the fort anymore.”
PG players had a different take on the process. They said that people were getting outside, interacting with each other and have created a real community.
The Fort is a public place, they emphasized, and they have just as much right to be there as anyone else.
Dan Silvia, who said he has been familiar with the game for years, said the problem was not that there was a stop at Fort Phoenix, but that there were rare creatures there. He said they had “migrated,” however, and eventually people would realize that and go away.
Meanwhile, however, neighbors want relief.
The board, residents and gamers bounced around many ideas, including the possibility of charging for parking at the town lot; fining people who are there after hours; a curfew that would have to include everyone, not just PG players; and shutting down access to the fort completely.
Board members emphasized that the fort is not just any park, it is an historical site.
Several players, some who control Facebook groups, said they wanted to work out a solution with the town. They also emphasized that players spend money in Fairhaven, especially at restaurants.
“We all [want to] work with you guys,” said one player. “We’re here for a reason.”
Mr. Lavalette, who had been so vocal about removing the players from the fort, struck a different tone on Monday night.
“I’m not for or against it,” said Mr. Lavalette. “I’m just a reporter.”
He said the wear and tear on the fort and the solutions to that all “have a price tag.”
He said the game creators were to blame, not the players.
“They’ve been forced into an area” where they shouldn’t be, said Mr. Lavalette. “It’s not their fault.”
Fairhaven police chief Michael Myers said there were some steps his department could take, but mitigating the noise at 10 p.m. when everyone leaves at once would be difficult. He said players leave when told to, although some walk back later at night. Still, it’s the noise from the cars all leaving at once, with doors slamming, engines started and revving that disturbs the once quiet streets around the Fort.
The chief said he could send officers to try to disperse people earlier, but they also had other calls.
Players, especially those with Facebook groups, said they would encourage other players to stagger their leaving times and not yell or make other unnecessary noise.
Just before press time, the town released its plan of action to address issues with Pokemon Go players at the Fort. The plan includes enhanced enforcement of parking regulations on Fort and Green Streets, closing the gate of the parking lot at 9 instead of 10, installation of portable bathrooms and cigarette disposal containers, enhanced enforcement of disturbing the peace violations after 10 p.m.
Selectboard member Dan Freitas will act as a liaison between the town and PG players and create a working group for them to self-regulate behavior, parking, littering, etc. The group will also explore money raising options to help offset the extra costs.
Town Administrator Mark Rees will enlist of the help of town counsel to contact the game’s operators to find out if changes can be made to “minimize the negative aspects of the game at Fort Phoenix,” and to see if there is legal basis to bring action against the company or seek compensation for damages.
Ms. Rees will also arrange a meeting with the chairs of the Selectboard, Historical Commission, and Board of Public Works to discuss jurisdictional issues at the fort, as it appears that all three have some level of responsibility for the space.
The document is available on our website (link below).
In another matter, the board agreed with a recommendation by Ann Richard to have Fairhaven start participating in National Night Out, or a similar event, which seeks to build relationships between the community and the police department.
“We have a really wonderful police department,” said Ms. Richard.
Later in the meeting, police chief Michael Myers said that participating in NNO requires some planning, but he would be happy to arrange it for next year.
In other business, the board:
• Chose Kirk & Co. and MacRostic Historic Advisors to perform a study on possible reuse of the Rogers School building. A public meeting will be held in the fall, and any recommendations will have to be approved by Town Meeting.
*A press release from Fairhaven Wind is available on our website at www.NeighbNews.com. The slide presentation is available on the town’s website at www.fairhaven-ma.gov. Click on “Documents and Contracts,” then “Fairhaven Wind.”