Neighbors divided over wind turbine

Neighbors divided over wind turbine

Ruth Pacheco stands in front of the herb garden shed of the family farm at 810 Old Smithfield Road, where she and her daughters hope to install a wind turbine. The turbine, she says, will allow them to continue to maintain the property, which has been in the family for seven generations. (Breeze photos by Lauren Clem)

NORTH SMITHFIELD – In the woods off Old Smithfield Road, a quiet stretch of land has stirred up a loud debate over the future of this neighborhood.

Driving into Ruth Pacheco’s farm at 810 Old Smithfield Road, visitors might think they’ve entered a different era. Historic farm structures give way to an expansive herb garden with bright blooms and tantalizing scents. Honeybees buzz from one flower to the next, scooping up nectar before flying off to replenish their hives in another portion of the property.

Pacheco, 89, was raised on the farm, and still lives in a house beside the herb garden. Sitting in her kitchen, she can recall watching her father and brothers carry stones from the field to weigh down the original farmhouse during the Hurricane of 1938. The house survived, and her daughter, Linda Frye, lives there now, two of seven generations to have called the farm home.

The property has changed little, but the world around it has, and signs of that change are visible all up and down Old Smithfield Road. Once the site of an old trolley line, the street now sports “No turbine” signs outside many of its homes. The signs are a visible reminder of the deep rift between the Pacheco family and neighbors over a plan to preserve the family farm by installing a wind turbine on the 53-acre property.

According to Pacheco family history, the first family members to live there were Aldriches who married into the Allen family to combine the family farms. At the time, Old Smithfield Road was the main route connecting Sayles Hill Road to points further north, and the family lived off the land, harvesting lumber and growing crops.

Over the years, they’ve found different ways of bringing income into the farm, raising cows and horses and opening a boarding kennel for dogs. In 1985, Pacheco started Hi-on-a-Hill herb farm, where she still runs summer workshops and has a gift shop. The family also participates in reforestation programs run by the Natural Resources Conservation Service that offer incentives for forest management and hosts Blackstone Valley Apiaries, a team consisting of brothers-in-law Normand Peloquin and John Moore, who keep about a dozen hives on the property.

“It is a farm. As I said, there’s 100,000 workers who are very busy producing honey,” said Pacheco.

In 2015, she attended a workshop for farmers interested in green energy and met Mark DePasquale, founder of wind and solar energy company Green Development. The company developed a plan to install a 462.5-foot-tall wind turbine on the property with a lease agreement promising lease payments to the family over 25 years. The payments, said Pacheco, will allow her and her daughters to continue to maintain the farm, which they eventually hope to pass on to her grandchildren.

“They’re on security, I’m on Social Security, so it’s going to enable us to stay,” she said.

The turbine’s first round before town boards ended abruptly in 2016 when neighbors learned about the project and expressed their opposition before the Town Council, which passed a moratorium on wind turbines and later banned them completely. Though the council actions and an ensuing lawsuit by neighbors delayed the project for more than two years, the application, filed before the ban went into effect, remained active, and the company returned for another hearing before the Zoning Board of Review three months ago.

At the same time Green Development was preparing for another public debate, Nicole Valliere, owner of a neighboring property at 796 Old Smithfield Road, was preparing to move her family to a new home. Several years ago, she and her parents, Albert and Paula Valliere, decided to move in together after her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and began shopping around for their forever home. They moved between a couple different houses before finding the property on Old Smithfield Road, immediately next door to the Pacheco farm.

“It was quiet and serene and beautifully built,” said Valliere.

The property, which the family purchased for $925,000, includes 16 acres of land and an expansive outdoor space, a setup Valliere said was perfect for her two children. The family, she said, was unaware a turbine was under consideration on the road until after they’d closed on the property in March, when Ruth Pacheco visited to welcome them to their new home. It was Pacheco who told them a turbine may be going up on the neighboring property, less than 1,000 feet from their home.

“With my father being sick and everything, this house is perfect, and I wouldn’t think you would have to look at if there’s a wind turbine going up next to you,” said Valliere.

Since then, she’s done extensive research on wind turbines around the state, contacting neighbors of the company’s other wind turbines in Portsmouth, Johnston and Coventry. Residents in those communities complain of flickering shadows and a constant, vibrating noise impacting their health and keeping them up at night. She visited homes on the Johnston-Cranston line, where residents say they suffer from sleep deprivation as a result of seven turbines, all taller than the one planned for North Smithfield, constructed last year.

“I was appalled. I couldn’t believe how loud it is. It’s like a jet engine running all the time,” she said.

Valliere, along with her neighbors, are fighting hard against the wind turbine, with signs opposing the proposal once again cropping up all over town. The debate has played out at public hearings in the middle school cafeteria, where Green Development has denied allegations their other turbines violate local noise ordinances and pointed out the shadows caused by the spinning blades will only affect homes for a small number of days during the year. Pacheco added that the neighborhood, though set back from the main road, is far from isolated from the noise of surrounding development. From her farm, the sound of 18-wheelers passing on Route 146 and gunshots from a nearby shooting range are constant reminders of the growth of the surrounding area, which also borders Dowling Village and Route 99.

“My neighbors say, what’s in it for us? And I say, well, have you been here all my life taking care of this property? They don’t understand,” she said.

The issue has split neighbors along property lines, with residents who grew up together and once exchanged produce from family farms now eyeing each other across opposite sides of the middle school cafeteria. For the Pachecos, the turbine is about maintaining a family property that has existed for seven generations and, with the extra income, could remain in the family for generations to come.

“There’s something in this land that gets into your blood,” explained Frye.

“It’s called roots,” added Pacheco.

Valliere, too, is trying to preserve a way of life for her family, and worries about the impact the turbine will have on her father’s health. Her father, she said, suffers from seizures triggered by stress, and she worries her family will have to choose between their health and the home they had expected to remain in for years to come. Many of her neighbors have long histories on their properties, and her worst fear, she said, is that the effects of the turbine will be as bad as she’s heard.

“That the people that have owned property on this road, or their families have owned property on this road, or their kids are going to own property on this road, are going to suffer, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. We’re all helpless,” she said.

The final decision on the turbine will be left to the town Zoning Board, which is expected to issue a decision in July. After several months of discussion, both families said they’re not sure what they’ll do if the board votes in favor of the other side. Neither wants to sell their property, but for the losing side in this debate, the stable way of life they’ve embraced in the woods of Old Smithfield Road could be coming to an end.

Nicole Valliere and her family purchased the property at 796 Old Smithfield Road, immediately next door to the proposed wind turbine, in March. She and her neighbors fear the turbine could affect their health and quality of life in the secluded neighborhood.
Normand Peloquin tends to his bees on the Pacheco property, one of several activities that allows the continued operation of the historic family farm.

Comments

The proposed turbine comes at the expense of the family in this article, every family in the neighborhood, and the very essence of the families that call this rural area home. There are a multitude of reasons for opposition to this proposal, which the neighboring residents have clearly researched and must genuinely fear could become their reality. The noise, the flickering, health issues, to name a few. A simple Google search led me to many articles describing the negative impacts to people living near wind turbines in this state. Individuals who had little to no control of the construction of the turbines, or the change in their once peaceful lives. Wind turbines do not belong in rural/residential areas.

I understand and respect the Pacheco Farm entity, and looking to preserve and keep vital, the family farm. And having that financial stability to do so, is key in this day and age as costs rise. HOWEVER, there ARE other alternatives for farm/agricultural entities such as hers. All one need do is research renewable energy and farms, and wind farms are not the only source of potential income. I figure this, I have to live near my neighbors, and I would not want to be a negative impact on their lives, nor them, on my life. Regardless if I'd been there many years before, respect is key, and getting along well is more important to any money making venture that will cause ill will. Again, there are other alternatives. And surprisingly to me, is that the Pacheco farm, so loving of nature, wants a wind farm that is a known killer of needed birds to our ecosystem! Just an odd sense of morality in this whole scenario going on there. Always do the right thing, the best thing for ALL in the long run, and you can't fail.

...that someone for their own benefit would destroy the value of their neighbors' property and jeopardize their neighbors' health as well as peace and enjoyment of their property. And it goes without saying that Mrs. Pacheco will also be destroying the value of her own property and her family's health and welfare. People allover the state are suffering from the effects of living next to these monstrosities. However Mrs. Pacheco chooses to ignore her neighbors and her fellow Rhode Islanders and believe the developer. Hopefully the zoning board will do the right thing and deny this permit.

We live 1100 feet from one of Green Developments turbines in Portsmouth. It has robbed us of our quality of life. Twice this week, at 11;30 PM I called police to lodge a noise complaint. It was louder than 60 decibels, 55 being our night time limit. Our police have been stopped from responding and issuing citations stating that the turbine is exempt from our noise ordinances, per order of our town solicitor. So we suffer. No more open windows on nice nights, we sleep in a room (had to abandon the back bedroom) with the windows blocked up, white noise machine, and earplugs. Real soon will be air conditioners full time. All since this "quiet" turbine came to town. Not one promised mitigation remedy has been implemented. I was personally told by Mark DePasquale, "If we could not take it anymore, it was time for us to move" and he hung up on me.We have lived here 25 years. I was also given a pair of Bose noise cancelling earbuds to help drown out the constant low frequency whoosh which goes right through my house.Why would I need those if these giant electric generating plants were so quiet? Not to mention the insane flicker. We were fed a steady stream of lies when the turbine was being proposed. Our town council bought it, hook, line and sinker. Do not let this happen to your neighborhood!
Denise Wilkey

The Pachecos stand to make 1.5 million in leasing land for an industrial turbine. In return they recklessly compromise the health & welfare of neighbors/ community. Not fit for a residential area much less 1 that is on the Nat'l Register of Historic Places. Ironically, Pacheco fought the Dowling Village turbine...to protect the environment.

There's just no place for these machines 1,000-2,000 feet from people's homes. Too much baggage that comes along with them. I understand the movement to greener energy sources and get that, but cramming these industrial machines in right next to residents is not the way. Open mountain ranges, large land tracts (1,000 acres or more), desserts, oceans, etc. are certainly better sites.

When will people realize the facts about these types of things. It doesn't take too much research to understand the risk verses reward factor is just not there at residents expense.