FAA wants proposed wind turbines trimmed
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently classified proposed wind turbine projects at West Tisbury School and the Martha's Vineyard Arena (MVA) as presumed hazards to air navigation, given their location in the Martha's Vineyard Airport's flight paths. The FAA's decisions, which included recommendations for reducing the height of the two wind turbines, may literally take the wind out of the ice arena's project.
"We are in a holding pattern," MVA President Jevon Rego said yesterday. "We have to make a decision, because we are going to be decreased in height significantly, and we are trying to figure out whether or not it will be feasible for us to do the project."
Airport manager Sean Flynn said he received notification from the FAA last week. "The projects have not been turned down altogether," he explained. "They just have to go through another process. We get updates when something changes, and those two just happened to come up at the same time."
The MVA's wind turbine project underwent an aeronautical study by the FAA, in addition to review as a development of regional impact by the Martha's Vineyard Commission. The MVA proposal involves building a combination 165-foot-tall wind turbine and wireless communications tower at Martha's Vineyard's only ice rink, located on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road across from the regional high school.
The goal of the wind turbine project is to curb soaring energy costs and raise revenues for the nonprofit community organization.
The commission approved the MVA's project with several conditions, pending FAA approval, in October. However, on December 5, the FAA sent the MVA a notice of presumed hazard, recommending reducing the wind turbine structure to 94 feet above ground level.
Mr. Rego said a combination wind turbine and cell phone equipment tower would not be high enough at 94 feet to make the wind turbine efficient and would not allow enough room between the blades of the wind turbine to position cell phone equipment above the treeline.
"Our project is not dead yet, but it's going to be difficult to make it work," Mr. Rego said. "We're trying to see if we can salvage it and if it's doable. We never expected this to be the stumbling block. We're going back to square one here."
Mr. Rego said the MVA is going to investigate using a different turbine that may offer better energy production at that height, as well as other cell phone equipment options.
Mr. Rego said he has been talking with FAA officials over the past two days, as well as Mr. Flynn, who has been very helpful.
"This was the first application we made before we did any of our local permitting applications - we never expected to have any problems, based on the wind turbine at the high school, which is 112 feet," Mr. Rego said. "Apparently we're just further enough in line with the airport's runway to make a significant difference."
The West Tisbury School wind turbine project involves collaboration between the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD), which owns the property, and a town committee, the Up-Island Regional School Energy Committee. Original plans called for building a 235-foot wind turbine at the school.
A wind site survey conducted in January 2007 identified West Tisbury School as a favorable site. Because the location is only 2.2 miles from the airport, the UIRSD and energy committee requested an aeronautical study from the FAA to determine whether there would be height restrictions for a wind turbine. On October 23, 2008, the FAA issued a notice of presumed hazard, recommending a reduction in the wind turbine structure's height to 202 feet above ground level.
In a phone call Monday, Mr. Flynn said after issuing a notice of presumed hazard, the FAA either declares a proposed project a hazard or sends it to circularization.
"I don't see anything definitive yet as far as these two projects go," Mr. Flynn said. "It may come to that - it depends - the FAA gets to this kind of in-between place where they try to negotiate a height that allows a project to continue and doesn't have any negative impacts on the airport."
Superintendent of schools James Weiss and the UIRSD received a notification from the FAA dated December 3 that the West Tisbury School wind turbine proposal will undergo circularization. During that process, the FAA circulates a public notice to parties who would have interest in the case and solicits their input.
"In the circularization process, the airport would have a chance to comment," Mr. Flynn said. "That is one of the opportunities - the only opportunity, really - that we have to comment on it, and we're just looking for protection of the airspace, so as not to degrade the approaches to it."
Mr. Flynn said although he and airport officials keep track of FAA decisions, they essentially are not involved in the process. "We have to advocate on behalf of the airport at some point in time if they get to that point, but it's not our airspace - we don't own it - and neither does the FAA," he pointed out. "The FAA recognizes that they have to have compatible uses between surrounding communities and their uses for the airspace, so we agree with that."
The most critical traffic in and out of Martha's Vineyard Airport is air transport for medically related purposes, Mr. Flynn explained. "What we're trying to do is make sure that we protect the airspace around us for the most extreme cases, which are the Life Flights that need to get to the airport to evacuate somebody," he said. "It's a small percentage of the flights, but they're the most important flights, and they usually happen in bad weather."
Proximity to the airport is not always the deciding factor in the FAA's determinations of navigation hazards, however. "We had one wind turbine over in Waldron's Bottom that ended up fairly close to the airport at what you would consider a significant height, but because it wasn't on the approach, even though it was close to the airport, the project went right through," Mr. Flynn said. "So it depends, and that's why we don't give advice to people who are contemplating putting up antennas and wind turbines, and recommend that they go through this process because the FAA has the engineers on board that can do the evaluations."
Mr. Flynn said the airport staff will take a look at the West Tisbury School's wind turbine proposal, see what the proponents' responses are to the FAA, and go from there. "We like the idea of wind energy, and when it doesn't have any effect on the airport, then it's a good use of the airspace," Mr. Flynn said.