Under close questioning by Bangor attorney Edmond Bearor, lawyer for the family of Selectman Steve Bennett, a representative of Competitive Energy Services of Portland was unable to provide definitive answers to several questions about the proposed wind-power project on Beaver Ridge.
Bearor attended a Monday, Nov. 20 meeting of the Planning Board to represent the family of Bennett, which owns land abutting the site where CES is proposing to build three, 400-foot wind turbines.
According to CES, the $12 million project would generate enough energy to power 2,000 Maine households. If approved, construction would begin in spring 2008.
Bearor asked whether any background noise readings were taken on the hilltop prior to the preparation of an engineering simulation to determine how much noise the turbines would create.
“No ambient noise readings were taken at this site,” responded Andy Price, an employee of the Portland-based company and nephew of Knox farmer Ron Price, on whose land the turbines would be erected.
The simulation, noted Bearor, said the background noise level at the site would have to be below 35 decibels to make it probable that the ordinance thresholds of 55 decibels at the property line, and 45 decibels at any nearby residence, were not exceeded.
“[The noise study] is totally based on the supposition that the background noise level is 35 decibels or less,” Bearor told the board. “”¦ That cannot be shown to the [Planning] Board.”
A short time later, Diane Winn of Avian Haven in Freedom also noted the study does not appear to take prevailing wind direction into account. Winn, a former Colby College professor who said she has some professional experience with sound, claimed the home of Phil Bloomstein would often be downwind of the turbines and, therefore, potentially exposed to more sound than other nearby properties.
The study, by professor Anthony L. Rogers of the Renewable Energy Lab at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, concluded the turbines could be expected to result in a maximum of 44.8 decibels of sound at the nearest residence, Bloomstein’s.
Given that the ordinance threshold is 45 decibels, Winn said it was important to understand if prevailing winds were taken into account in the study.
Winn raised a number of other technical questions about the study in a letter she presented to the board. “I am unconvinced project will meet the noise limits in the ordinance,” she said.
Winn said she loaned a professional sound meter to neighbors of the project site to allow them to measure background noise on their properties. “What are the ambient levels?” asked board member Prentice Grassi.
Winn said she wasn’t sure, because the abutters originally thought that lower noise levels would bolster their case, and therefore might have rushed to report lower-than-actual background readings.
Under questioning from the board, Andy Price defended Rogers’ study. The scientist had 18 months of wind speed and direction data at his disposal, Price said, along with topographical and other information. In addition, Rogers made a number of conservative assumptions, including that there was no vegetation to buffer the sound, and that the temperature and humidity would always be at the levels that cause sound to travel best.
“This project is not going to hurt the landowners on Beaver Ridge,” said Andy Price.
Bloomstein remained unconvinced. “I do hope you take very seriously what Diane has to say,” he said.
Bearor also asked whether CES would need to widen Sibley Road to get the 130-foot windmill blades to the site, and if the company had permission from abutting landowners to do so. Further, he questioned whether additional utility transmission lines would need to be built to deliver power generated at the site to the regional electrical grid.
Andy Price could not say for certain whether the project would require road or power line construction, but said CES would do whatever was necessary to get the project done.
“These issues don’t strike me as impassable,” said Price. ” “¦ Construction projects happen all over the state.”
That wasn’t enough for Bennett. “This lack of preparation would be laughable if so much wasn’t at stake,” he said, asking the Planning Board deny the application because it did not provide adequate information.
Near the end of the three-hour hearing, however, the Planning Board voted 5-0 to rule the application was complete, close the hearing and meet Wednesday, Nov. 29 to begin deliberating whether the project met the requirements of the town’s commercial development review ordinance.
Earlier in the meeting, Erin Bennett-Wade, the selectman’s daughter and an abutter to the project site, questioned whether planning Board member Kim Holmes was capable of making an unbiased decision on the project. Bennett-Wade detailed a number of alleged statements by Holmes regarding wind power, and questioned if her comments were inappropriate, private conversations between Holmes and employees of CES.
She asked the Planning Board to remove Holmes from further deliberations on the project.
A shaken Holmes acknowledged that she was a supporter of wind power and had offered to ask a relative who lives near windmills in the Netherlands write a letter discussing the noise issue.
“I am for wind power, whether in Freedom or anywhere else,” she said.
But Holmes rejected allegations that she said she would sit at the roadside and cheer as trucks carrying the windmills drove past.
“The bottom line is whether Ms. Holmes will be able to make a make a fair decision [about the application],” advised William Kelly, a Belfast lawyer hired to advise the Planning Board in the final stages of the review process. The board leaned heavily on Kelly throughout the hearing.
“Don’t you think any of us could be accused of making statements that could be construed as bias?” asked Planning Board Chairwoman Nancy Bailey Farrar. Such statements did not mean the board was unable to render an impartial decision, she said.
With Holmes prevented from voting on the issue, the other members of the Planning Board voted 4-0 not to ask her to step aside.
Based in Belfast, Copy Editor Andy Kekacs can be reached at 207-338-0484 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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