Are You a NIMBY?

First of all, NIMBY is the acronym for “not in my back yard.”  It generally refers to people who like the idea of something so long as it does not exist in their back yard, or in close proximity to it.

Recently, in a Cape Cod community, a group of people managed to get a wind turbine shut down because they claimed it made too much noise.  I am trying to imagine that but it escapes me how something that is not burning fossil fuel makes much noise at all.   But I’ll come back to this issue.

A number of years ago the Massachusetts Port Authority pushed the idea of getting a commercial airline to serve out of Hanscom Field, the civil portion of Hanscom Air Force Base.  There was an almost immediate uproar from the good citizens of Bedford, Lincoln, and Concord, all of whom declared unequivocally that such a move would create an unnecessary noisy nuisance.  They claimed the increased air traffic would be responsible.  MassPort was making the move in an attempt to alleviate Boston’s Logan Airport of some of its congestion.  No one with any knowledge of air travel expected anything more than small commuter aircraft to serve Hanscom Field.  The true noise makers were, and are, the corporate jets that frequent the airport.  To date, not a single commercial jet as availed itself of Hanscom.  Commercial propeller aircraft have served.  To quote the bard, “Much ado about nothing.”

More recently, the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, along with other groups, has been pushing to convert an abandoned railbed into a bicycle trail under the auspices of the RailTrail Act.  The idea is to have a bike path extending from Waltham MA to Chicopee MA.  One community, Weston, has stood in the way of this happening.  They claim it would bring an undesirable element into their fair town.  For those of you not familiar with Weston MA, it is a Boston bedroom community of considerable wealth.  It is somewhere between difficult and impossible to find a house selling for under $500,000 there.  The people of Weston fear that a bicycle path will increase the crime rate in their town.  And there it is, NIMBY!  The people of Lexington MA, another upscale Boston bedroom community, did not have the same concerns when the railtrail was developed in their fair town.  Today it brings in hundreds of bicyclists, pedestrians, and tourists into the town.  Even more, it provides a resource for the townspeople who want to go out for a stroll on the tree-lined and beautiful path.  But somehow this fact is lost on the NIMBYs of Weston.

Most recently, a group proposed that a rather substantial wind farm be built-in the waters off the coast of Massachusetts adjacent to Cape Cod.  Well don’t you know, out came the NIMBYs claiming first that it was unsightly.  And then when that got laughed at they claimed it would irreparably harm the fishing grounds on which it would be built.  That too was proven false but they persist.  Now they claim that it will generate electricity that is too expensive.  Of course these are the same sort of arguments used when the automobile was first introduced.  Many said it would never amount to more than a novelty.  It was expensive, at first, but then a guy named Ford figured out how to drastically reduce the cost of production.  I expect the same is going to happen with wind generated power.

Another group of people howled when the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority decided to reopen a long abandoned rail line to help alleviate traffic congestion on the Massachusetts south shore.  Once again out came the NIMBYs.  One small group claimed that some colonial structures would be ruined by the passing of trains.  Of course they failed to realize that heavy freight trains had once toiled over the same location without incident.  Others were trying to protect illegal structures they had built on the old railroad right-of-way.  To its credit, the MBTA pushed the line through and now nary a complaint can be heard.  The line is doing what it was intended.

Americans are spoiled.  They want things like cheap power which translates to oil forever.  Of course oil will run out by the end of the century.  That is a given.  In the mean time Americans have to accept that things like wind farms are going to have to go up in their back yards if they really want to continue to enjoy cheap electricity.  The price of wind generated electricity will go down and the price of fossil fuel generated electricity will go up, and rather quickly in the not too distant future.  The same is true of other emerging technologies.  They will take time, and space, to develop.  If Americans want to continue to enjoy the fruits of our society there is a price to pay.




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