Karen’s Story

Karen Isherwood does not think of herself as a victim. She is a fighter; perhaps I should say a combatant. Every day, she gets up in the morning and goes toe to toe with lymphatic cancer. When you first meet Karen, her diminutive stature might lead you to believe she is a pushover; but that would be a mistake. She is tough, she has stamina, and she has a great team in her corner. Her daughters, Chelsea and Leah, are always there for her. Chelsea still lives at home and helps support the household because Karen has not been able to work since 2010. Fighting cancer is a full time job for her. She has good doctors, too; ones she has gradually come to trust. Above all else, they emphasize how important it is for her to nurture and strengthen her immune system. To do this, she has to eat right, get good sleep; and, most importantly, she has to avoid stress as much as possible.

Until recently, Karen lived in the ideal place to follow her doctors’ orders. You could say she had the home field advantage. She lives in what was once an idyllic little cul-de-sac in Fairhaven, MA, called Teal Circle. There is no traffic at all, it is quiet, and she gets along well with her neighbors who share the circle. Shady woods loft directly behind her house. Beyond the woods, there is a quiet, marshy estuary than runs into Little Bay, a beautiful nook tucked into a recess of Buzzards Bay. Karen chose this location with great care almost 25 five years ago, when she first got married. For all these years, song birds have serenaded her, hawks have hunted there, and the deer visit to take advantage of the salt lick she puts out at the edge of her property.

Like many people who live here, Karen is very proud of her Portuguese-American heritage and her family, who has made this area its home for four-generations. Her place on Teal Circle is more than a piece of property, even more than a home; it is part of her roots and her identity. This is where she raised her family and where she has every intention of seeing her grandchildren grow up. She had no intention of leaving this place, until recently.

The other day, something ominous happened. Her neighbor’s dog fell down the stairs.  Ordinarily, you would not think of this as an earth-shattering event, but in this case it could be. Karen knows why it happened, too. When he took his dog to the vet, her neighbor expected the worst; so he was surprised to learn that his dog had vertigo. Vertigo (dizziness) can usually be treated with the same kind of medicine you take for seasickness. This event is ominous because vertigo is one of the signature symptoms of a much bigger problem, something called Wind Turbine Syndrome. Vertigo is just one of the symptoms commonly caused by the low frequency sound emitted by large industrial turbines. Two of most common symptoms are sleeplessness, and an otherwise unexplained anxiety. In short, it is the worst nightmare for someone who is battling lymphatic cancer.

Early this spring, Charlie Murphy, Michael Sylvia, and Brian Bowcock, the Fairhaven Select board, secretly conspired with the Executive Secretary, Jeffrey Osuch, to put up 2 large turbines just 1300 feet from Karen’s home. This was done in secrecy because the original plan, concocted by Sylvia, Bowcock and Ron Manzone was defeated legally in 2008. The new plan included a fly-by-night wind developer calling itself Fairhaven Wind, LLC. Teal Circle is now in the shadow of two 400 foot, life-destroying mechanical monsters that assault her randomly, but relentlessly, spewing toxic noise—day and night, 365 days a year. Many healthy people are forced to leave their homes when subjected this onslaught of audible and inaudible noise. Living in the shadow of turbines is extremely stressful and there is a growing body of medical evidence to prove it.

For Karen, however, this onslaught could be catastrophic. Neither she nor her daughter, Chelsea, is sleeping well anymore. This has already begun to impact Chelsea’s performance at work, a job which is critical for her own career as well as helping to support the household. Karen knows that she desperately needs rest, relaxation, and good sleep to win her fight against cancer; but she also knows that what happened to her neighbor’s dog is one more indication that the odds are turning against her.  Her neighbors, Chris and Peter Goben are subjected to hellacious flicker each sunny morning. Try to imagine living somewhere that makes you hope you do not have bright sun and a breeze. Karen knows that she will have to face this flicker herself this fall when the leaves drop behind her house. She is losing her home field advantage.

Placed in this seemingly no win situation, most of us would be the first to cut our losses and run; but not Karen. The selectmen made the mistake of underestimating her courage and resolve to fight. She has joined other abutters in Little Bay in a law suit against the town and against Fairhaven Wind, LLC. Sumul Shah, the CEO, has personally met with Karen to offer her “mitigations”. In this context, mitigations denote steps like putting central air in your home or sound proofing your bedroom, ostensibly to reduce the effects of turbine noise. Apparently, Shah is willing to throw her a bone to keep her quiet. Of course, Karen has educated herself, so she knows these mitigations are not effective against the sound produced by turbines. Recently, she made it emphatically clear that she is holding the town responsible for what happens to her health. She also pointed out how preposterous and bitterly ironic it is to run air conditioning and use more power to protect herself and Chelsea from this so-called “green” technology.

Karen Isherwood has courage and tenacity, but she is facing ferocious odds and she knows it. She knows that time is not on her side. She wants people to understand that she cannot fight these odds alone. People who are getting sick need to come forward and join the fight. She realizes that many people still do not understand that it is the toxicity of the turbine noise that is making them ill. She also realizes that many people are less sensitive to turbines. It may take them longer to begin to get sick, but she has to fight now. She knows that those who are affected will sink or swim together.

Fairhaven Wind and town officials have confronted her with Hobson’s choice: soon her choice could become as simple as leave–0r die. Karen wants to dig in and fight. She wants to remain party to the law suit and hopes to regain the peaceful enjoyment of her beloved home. She wants to live to enjoy the natural beauty and delights of her own back yard and share them with her grandchildren; but, time may be running out for her. Justice delayed is truly justice denied in her case. It is no metaphor or exaggeration to say she is in a fight for her life.

Like Jenny, I have come to consider Karen a good friend. So, if it does come down to this stark choice, I hope Karen will carefully consider Jenny’s warning. “We need to get the message out to all turbine sufferers. . . . No location is worth dying for.” I know Karen is thinking about this idea because she told me that nearby Dartmouth has just passed a bylaw prohibiting turbines. Maybe Dartmouth has a place of respite for a turbine refugee who wants to put out a salt lick for the deer, sleep with the windows open, and live to see her grandchildren. I hope so, for her sake, for Chelsea’s sake, for Leah’s—and for my own sake. The world is a better place with friends like her in it.

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