Residents air concerns at wind power hearing

Posted Jan. 20, 2010, at 9:51 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:35 a.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — Sight, sound and potential economic liability were foremost on the minds of residents speaking at the first public hearing Tuesday night on the town’s proposed commercial wind energy ordinance.

A little more than a year in the making, the proposed ordinance grew out of discussions surrounding the potential of a large-scale wind farm running through this northern Maine town, though no formal applications have been filed with the town’s planning board.

In response to those questions and concerns, the Town Council appointed a wind study committee later that year which has been meeting regularly since then drafting the proposed ordinance.

According to the proposed ordinance, “sound levels of commercial wind energy facilities shall not exceed a maximum of 45 decibels measured at nonparticipating landowners’ property lines and shall not exceed a maximum of 42 decibels measured at occupied buildings on nonparticipating landowners’ property,” based on computerized sound modeling.

This, according to attorney Robert Plourde, exceeded the state’s recommendations but for some residents did not go far enough in addressing health concerns related to the noise generated by large turbines, especially when it comes to low-frequency or “infrasound” decibel levels.

“The problem was the literature review ended last April, and I only came up with one journal entry referencing infrasound,” said David Hobbins, University of Maine at Fort Kent professor of forestry and environmental sciences and committee member. “There simply are no set standards for it [and] it is a potential problem but there was not a lot of documentation.”

Several residents suggested adding language in the proposed ordinance to include any future standards from the World Health Organization regarding safe levels of low-frequency decibels.

“Can a provision be put in if [low-frequency decibel] levels are found to be harmful that can be regulated?” Robert Michaud asked.

The problem, Plourde and several committee members said, is the research showed low-frequency decibel levels constantly are emitted in the environment and cannot be separated from those potentially coming from a wind turbine.

“Maybe we can’t help what’s in the environment but we can help what’s man-made,” Michaud said.

The problem with sound setbacks, resident David Soucy said, is it comes down to a level of annoyance.

“There are studies that show how different people are bothered by different levels of noise,” Soucy said. “I would suggest 42 decibels will not be sufficient [and] I think the greater question is at what point do we allow our neighbors to suffer in the interest of economic gain.”

Michaud, the former municipal attorney, also was concerned that the ordinance left little enforcement control to the town.

Plourde pointed out that if any part of the ordinance was violated the company would “be out of compliance” and subject to enforcement action at local or state levels.

“But there is nothing that allows the code enforcement officer to issue a stop order if the wind company is in violation,” Michaud said. “Big companies just love to bring small towns to court and bleed them to death.”

Residents also requested the planning board adopt a 30-day notification period for any municipal meetings dealing with large-scale wind development, and stipulate any such activity be prohibited in residential areas.

The proposed ordinance, Plourde said, will not solve everyone’s problems with large-scale wind development.

“You have to plan for the future,” the town attorney said. “But you can’t plan for every eventuality.”

The town’s planning board will meet at 5:30 tonight to act on the public’s recommendations. The ordinance next goes to the Town Council for a second public hearing before being acted upon by voters at the annual town meeting in March.

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