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Height of wind turbine planned for Moon Island questioned by some Quincy residents

As Wednesday’s public hearing on the joint Quincy-Boston plan to build a nearly 400-foot wind turbine on Quincy’s Moon Island draws near, some Quincy residents are questioning the value of the project to their city and the cost in intangibles they may have to pay for it.

Quincy Planning Board member William Geary said his panel doesn’t have a good idea of how big the turbine will appear from the city’s Squantum neighborhood, complaining at an information session last month that the simulation photos offered to the board do not appear to be accurate.

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Plans call for the 397-foot structure to stand on a rise on the harbor island 97 feet above ground level. Geary said the rise lifts the profile of the turbine to the height of Boston’s Custom House but the simulation photos fail to suggest an object as tall as the 496-foot Custom House appears from his Squantum home.

At a public meeting in Squantum almost three years ago, the turbine was hailed by officials as a joint effort by Boston and Quincy to build a renewable energy facility on a site that takes advantage of favorable winds to produce 1.6 megawatts of electricity. Supporters said the benefits of the turbine’s renewable energy would accrue equally to the two cities.

Planning Board members last month heard a consultant’s review of a detailed proposal by the city of Boston, which owns Moon Island, a 40-acre island falling within the municipal borders of Quincy. The island is connected to Squantum by a gated road and to Boston’s Long Island by a deteriorating bridge.

Quincy’s consultants, Beals and Thomas of Plymouth, found little to criticize in the project’s details and its compliance with a host of environmental, height, and planning regulations. But they noted the structure would have an impact “to those who can see it’’ and offered photos to show what it would be like from various points.

“They are supposed to tell you that when it’s built, that’s what you’re going to see,’’ said Nicholas Verenis, the city’s economic development planner. Verenis said the consultants would double-check their information and redo the photos if necessary for Wednesday’s hearing.

“My object is to get everything resolved before that meeting,’’ Verenis said.

Even without photos, some residents have expressed concern that a Moon Island turbine would mar the view from their homes, said City Councilor Brian McNamee, whose North Quincy district includes the Squantum peninsula.

“It will significantly dominate the landscape,’’ McNamee said. “We have a very pristine harbor island. A structure that size is going to dominate the landscape for years to come. . . . People want to look at open vistas. This is not what you expect to see against that backdrop.’’

But city officials point out that the turbine would be more than a mile away from the nearest residence. “It’s as far away as humanly possible,’’ Quincy mayoral spokesman Chris Walker said.

Wind power turbines built or planned in other communities are much closer to neighborhoods, Walker said.

McNamee also said that while a turbine in Quincy would have significant impact, City Hall has failed to deliver on a promise to share information with the public on the status of the project.

“Nobody has articulated why this is such a good deal for Quincy,’’ McNamee said. “What’s the dollar amount? What’s the split? What is there to justify what we have to spend and put up with?’’

Pointing to potential disturbances to the island’s ecology and to bird migrations to a nearby nature reserve, McNamee said the project appears to be “good for Boston, bad for Quincy.’’

Citing a statement by former National Audubon Society president John Flicker, McNamee said a turbine can pose a threat to bird habitat. Flicker wrote that while the audubon society strongly supports wind power as a clean energy resource that “reduces the threat of global warming,’’ wind turbines “can still be hazardous and can fragment critical habitat’’ if built in the wrong locations.

The proposed turbine could be hazardous to birds because Moon Island is “the gateway to the Neponset River Reservation’’ where heron and other birds feed in extensive marshlands, McNamee said.

Boston’s plans for Moon Island are typically viewed with suspicion by some Quincy residents, who cite a history of heavy-handed treatment of the island by Boston, including the clear-cutting of vegetation in violation of Quincy’s regulatory authority. What tops the list for Squantum residents who remember playing and picnicking on the island is Boston’s current barring of access to all but authorized visitors.

Boston currently operates a police firing range there, a source of irritation to Quincy residents who complain about the noise. Last year mayors Thomas Koch of Quincy and Thomas Menino of Boston announced a reduction in the range’s hours of operation, a level of cooperation termed unprecedented by Quincy officials.

Responding to McNamee’s criticisms, Walker said the accounting of advantages to Quincy will be made clear by City Hall and promised to hold as many public meetings as necessary to answer all questions about the project.

“This project is being studied incredibly extensively as it relates to all those issues,’’ Walker said. “The city has hired peer review consultants to look at the proposal. This project is of tremendous environmental benefit to both Boston and Quincy’’ by providing green, renewable energy to both, he added.

While the project’s special permit application to the Quincy Planning Board does not require financial details, Walker said negotiations between the two mayors will determine how to divide the benefits of the project’s clean energy.

Walker said Boston has property rights to the island and Quincy has regulatory rights as the host community. The two mayors, he said, are working “to try to find the balance between those rights.’’

Wednesday’s hearing on the project will be held during the Planning Board’s meeting in the second-floor meeting room of the City Hall annex. The meeting begins at 7:45 p.m.

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.
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