Train and Economic Health

I know many of us in Newburyport complain about all the new folks that have moved to Newburyport in the last ten years, how much development there has been, and how high real estate prices have gotten in our city. Although real estate prices have come down in Newburyport, they haven’t plummeted the way they have in other cities and towns all across the United States.

Part of the multi layered reason that this has been true is the train to Boston, which had been discontinued in 1976 and arrived once more in October 1998.

An article in The New York Times written in August 22, 1999 talks about how the train was an incredible boost to the economy when it was announced, even before its arrival.

A recent article in The Boston Globe in February 17, 2008 praising Governor Patrick Duval’s potential commuter rail services to Fall River and New Bedford had this to day:

“Experience in other Massachusetts cities where commuter rail service has been restored since 1994 – Brockton, Newburyport, and Worcester – demonstrates that train service to the Hub can be a big shot in the arm economically.”

I remember hearing that the commuter train was finally going coming from Boston in 1997 and thinking that things would really take off in Newburyport, because it would feel like Newburyport was intrinsically linked to Boston. I had no idea how much they would take off, and things have taken off big time–vast understatement.

Could the train to Boston fizzle out completely? Yes, you bet. It’s happened before.

The Newburyport Daily News reports:

“By the early 1970s, only two trains a day ran between Boston and Newburyport, one inbound in the morning and a single one outbound at the end of the workday.

In 1976, the T discontinued service completely. It did not resume until 1998.”

To limit the commuter train from Newburyport to Boston in any way would really hurt Newburyport economically. I would urge everyone to get in touch with the MBTA and protest. Please press here to find out how to do that.

MBTA Train Protest

Probably the largest economic threat at the moment to Newburyport, which would effect everyone in a major way, is the proposal by the MBTA to cutback train services from Boston to Newburyport. (More on why this is true later.)

It is really important for us as a city to let the MBTA know that this would be completely unacceptable.

You can go directly to the MBTA website and leave them a message here.

Also send at least an email to Newburyport’s State Senator Steven Baddour and State Representative Mike Costello letting them know that this is unacceptable.

Email for Steven Baddour is here.

Email for Mike Costello is here.

For a more detailed information on what to do go here. (For some reason I cannot make the link go to the exact post, so you want April 20, 2009 “Let’s Make Some Lead Balloons.”)

Wind Turbine and Living With It

I got this email from a reader of the Newburyport Blog and was given permission to share it:

Mary- I have been very interested in your blogging about the turbine. I am one of the people affected by it and I want you to know not everyone feels the same in the neighborhood. At the moment it can be difficult for people in the neighborhood to listen to each other or be able to hear a differing opinion about it. Right now, it appears it could be difficult to agree to disagree. There are couples where one can hear the turbine and the other cannot. People see and hear things differently.

I am probably one of the longest members of the neighborhood–I remember cows down in the industrial park and the airport out where the cheesecake company is. The neighborhood has always been a more quiet section mostly because of the cemetery and back then it was a majority of old spinsters. Now, it is people with families. Neighborhoods naturally go through changes as people die or move away.

Yes, the turbine is big but how can I want a greener world without supporting it in my own backyard? The flicker lasts an hour at the most right now. For me the noise is minimal–I lived next to the airport in East Boston for awhile so I know what a jet plane sounds like. I find that there are lots of other noises in the neighborhood that can be more distracting–the trains warming up, dogs barking or our kids out running around–these can be louder than the turbine. I am willing to learn how to live with it, but I know that many of my neighbors look at it each new day and get angry all over again.

I look at the turbine as a symbol just like all those white steeple churches on the greens around New England were a long time ago–it is the new model for a “city upon the hill”–for me it is Christian charity. I feel that it can be difficult for some in the neighborhood to stand back and see that it is a global thing where anything that gets us off oil helps in the long run and is good for all.

I guess I want you to understand some of us are learning to live with the turbine and move on. We have trees in our backyard and that is a simple solution to how it looks. Actually, it can sometimes look very cool. I want to see it get painted like the gas tanks in Boston–how cool would that look! Anytime you want to come over and take a gander you are more than welcome. Flicker is at its best as the sun is setting. We are supposed to be most affected during April and then again in July. It will be interesting to see how it goes. Thanks for listening.

Wind Turbines with Less Oomph

What I really have wanted to write about, and have hesitated, very politically incorrect, especially in the midst of “Greater Newburyport Earth Day Celebration,” is my research into wind turbines in Copenhagen, one of the world’s, if not the world’s greenest city, and Costa Rica, one of the world’s, if not the world’s greenest country.

I was told about Copenhagen by a reader of the Newburyport Blog, who also sent me the video of Jay Leno demonstrating his wind turbine (see previous post). And always liking a good learning curve, I was very much interested in reading about how such an old European city would incorporates large wind turbines in a populated area.

Well they don’t.

They have a beautiful arch of large wind turbines out in the bay. Photograph of the turbines here and here.

And I came across this quote:

“There are many advantages in placing these big electricity factories in the ocean where the wind blows at maximal speed. Also, the Danish public seems to approve of wind turbine energy as long as the turbines are not too visible and standing in their back yard!”

From here.

Would this makes us in Newburyport rethink our wind turbine ordinance, erecting large wind turbines so close to the population of Newburyport, MA?

And from what I can make out, Costa Rica has their country’s large wind turbines away from populated areas as well.

I get it, the argument is that smaller wind turbines like the one Jay Leno was demonstrating in the previous post, just do not have enough oomph. But my question would be, even Copenhagen, with a claim to the greenest city in the world, doesn’t want large turbines in their back yard. And any large wind turbine in Newburyport’s Industrial Park would be in Newburyport’s back yard, so maybe in Newburyport it would be Ok if we had a wind policy that was in scale to where we as a city live, work and play, and that we might think about having less oomph as a way to go.

Urban and Suburban Wind Turbines

This video (editor’s note: the video is no longer available) was sent to me by a reader of the Newburyport Blog. It is one of the latest (and looks like one of the most effective) new vertical wind turbines (as opposed to the horizontal propeller wind turbines) for urban, suburban and populated areas. Very cool. Jay Leno makes the presentation (a little star power here).

The wind turbine is made by a company called Enviro Energies. I am especially fascinated by “Ed Begley and Jim Rowan talking turbine” on their website.

Ed Begley who at one point I saw all over TV talking about alternative energy has this to say:

“Enviro Energies has re-awakened my excitement of utilizing urban wind power.”

I don’t see why a product like this on could not be installed at industries in Newburyport’s Industrial Park instead of huge industrial size wind turbines. They would both be effective and neighborhood friendly.

Plus, something that I was not aware of–there is a now a federal tax credit for “small wind turbines”:

“Today (October 3, 2008) Congress passed legislation, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, H.R. 1424, that includes a new federal-level investment tax credit to help consumers purchase small wind turbines for home, farm, or business use. A few hours ago, President Bush signed the bill into law. Owners of small wind systems with 100 kilowatts (kW) of capacity and less can receive a credit for 30% of the total installed cost of the system, not to exceed $4,000. The credit will be available for equipment installed from today through December 31, 2016.”

You can read about the tax credit for small wind turbines here.

The Train to Boston

Mayor John Moak is worried. I’m worried. There is good reason for concern.

When the train left North Station in Boston for Newburyport back in 1998, it helped Newburyport, MA a whole lot.

It helped Newburyport, MA become an extra desirable place to live, work and play. Even if a person never, ever used the train, psychologically it gave the feeling that Newburyport was intrinsically linked to Boston. Housing prices picked up, valuable tourism picked up, plus for me it’s just plain old fun to ride the train to Boston, MA, not to mention a great way to get to Boston, and a good way to commute there (new parking fees and all).

Do I think it would be really, really bad for the MBTA to limit in any way the train schedule from Newburyport to Boston, whether it’s on weekends and/or weekday trains after 7:00 PM? You bet I do. I think it’s really, really important to the lifeblood of Newburyport, MA not to let this one happen. How we as a city do that, no clue.

And just from a green perspective alone, mass transit is a no brainer. A big “HELP” on this one.

Significant or Insignificant Shadow Flicker

The power and nuance of words.

My objective would be to have a Newburyport wind ordinance that effectively uses wind energy and also protects local quality of life (to paraphrase or steal from Newburyport City Councilor Ed Cameron).

From talking to and emails from people, one of the central themes of this “work through” on various local Massachusetts wind turbine ordinances, appears to be the word “significant” in the phrase “that does not result in significant shadowing or flicker impacts” (Newbury’s draft wind turbine bylaw amendment), and on Newburyport’s current wind turbine ordinance on the Shadow/Flicker–XXVI-G 3.e..”the effect does not have significant adverse impact..”

It appears that the conflict or disagreement from different people’s point of view–the word “significant.” What appears “significant” to some would appear to be “insignificant” to others.

Folks who email me, rightly worried about Global Warming, and see wind energy as a win-win scenario, often feel that shadow flickers from large wind turbines would be insignificant.

My very cursory “whisk through” in understanding where these folks would be coming from, leads me to believe that there could be a disconnect between a larger wind energy agenda, and how things are accomplished on a local political level.

Which is why, I believe the Newburyport City Council is taking very seriously the concerns of neighbors of Newburyport’s wind turbine who do find the shadow, flicker significant in their lives. I think that they understand from a “getting things done” point of view, that “all politics is local.” That translating a larger wind energy policy into local lives, is difficult and takes an empathetic and nuanced approach, if we as a country are going to have an effective alternative energy policy.

Twitter, Listening and Activism

Ari Herzog has been hoping that I would enter the world of Twitter. So far I have not succumbed, despite Ari’s very persuasive reasoning. (I can see myself, should I surrender, becoming a complete Twitter addict.)

However, Twitter has become a valuable resource in trying to get a handle on folks who email me about the Newburyport Blog, who I do not know, and who I cannot find anyone I know who knows (following that one?).

Before, to try a figure out who folks were and where they might be coming from, I would have Salem Deeds on Line, Newburyport Vision Appraisal and Google. All gave me some idea, often limited.

Now I have Twitter, where mundane thoughts, everyday occurrences, personal interchanges, all of which before were previously kept private, now give me a more fleshed out glimpse into whoever I may wonder about (that is, providing they Twitter).

And all of this is very helpful. I feel a little bit as if I am intruding in their private lives, as if sitting in a public place and listening in on a private conversation over at the next table. Sometimes it even seems as if I am privy to gossip (something I am not particularly found of), if you will. But there it is, all out in public, for anyone to read and hear. A very large tool for this blogger to understand how a person may think and interact with the world.

Why would this be important? Because, as the editor of the Newburyport Blog, I am fascinated by how on a civic and political level, one gets things constructively accomplished. When in a more activist mode, I found that listening and getting people to talk, and taking what they had to say seriously, no matter how mundane it might seem to some, was one of the most effective ways to figure out positive civic and political outcomes.

It was often the more mundane, throw away “stuff” that was the most helpful. And here I have conversations to listen to on Twitter. Who knew I would find this social networking vehicle so helpful in this particular way.

Wind Turbine Shadow Flicker

When I wake up in the morning in Newburyport, MA and it’s sunny, it makes me smile.

I can’t (or maybe I could) imagine what it would be like to wake up on a regular sunny morning in Newburyport, MA and be in despair, and wish instead that it were cloudy.

And what I heard at last Tuesday’s meeting on the Newburyport wind turbine ordinance, was that on sunny days, Newburyport’s wind turbine can cast a shadow, or when moving a “shadow flicker,” on some of the neighboring homes. And on sunny days, instead of feeling cheered up, the residents who experience the shadow flicker, feel despair.

I cannot imagine sitting in my yard and A) have a large looming propeller like thing and then B) have that large looming propeller cast a moving shadow across my property, much less inside my home. I would be in despair too.

One of the things that was taken seriously into consideration at Newburyport’s wind turbine ordinance public hearing, was the subject of setbacks for future wind turbines, which would hopefully prevent this occurrence from happening in the future.

One of the questions at the end of the meeting, was what would happen if someone in Newburyport’s industrial park (which is zoned for wind turbines) wanted to erect one before changes to the wind turbine ordinance were made. And I was very glad to see the President of the Newburyport City Council, James Shanley, stand up and say (and I’m paraphrasing here) that if that were to happen, the city would take a very different approach than it had the first time.

Wind Turbine Meeting

I haven’t been to a Newburyport civic meeting in a while, and I went to the public meeting on the Wind Turbine Ordinance on Tuesday night.

I enjoyed seeing all the members of the Newburyport City Council there. I appreciate all the time and effort that they put into running our city, whether I agree with them on particular issues or not.

What struck me at the wind turbine meeting at Newburyport City Hall was the remarks by the residents of Newburyport, MA that are effected by the huge 292 foot wind turbine that is now up in Newburyport’s Industrial Park.

Yes, there was anger, but there was also despair. Probably the most heart wrenching comment for me, came from a woman (and this is a paraphrase) who said that she grew up in Newburyport, that her family home was taken by eminent domain, and that she feels because of the very intrusive effects of the wind turbine, that her home had been taken by eminent domain once again.

And a friend of mine who is not effected directly by the wind turbine said that they went to one of the homes to see what all the fuss was about, and that they could not believe how intrusive the effect of the large wind turbine actually was.

And yes, there were folks who talked about how glad they were that we as a city are combating global warming and now have a wind turbine on our city soil.

It appears to me that over the many years that I have been to meetings like this one, that City Councilors sometimes do an eye-roll thing. However, at the end of this meeting on the wind turbine ordinance, I was struck by how clearly the President of the Newburyport City Council, James Shanley appeared to empathize with the citizens who spoke. And I was also so glad to hear the chair of the Newburyport City Council Planning Committee, Ed Cameron, say that somehow we as a city need to not only take into consideration combating global warming, but also local quality of life.