Residents say the wind turbines atop Mars Hill Mountain are making noise and they want it fixed, but town officials aren’t sure whether anyone can do anything about it.
More than 40 residents who live around the mountain crammed into the town office Monday night during the Mars Hill Town Council meeting to register concerns about the Mars Hill Wind Farm.
Town councilors spent almost two hours trying to answer the crowd’s questions, but said the issue cannot be fully addressed until a sound analysis is done showing whether the noise exceeds Department of Environmental Protection regulations.
Everyone agrees that, since the project’s beginning, people were told there would be no noise. But since mid-December, town and company officials and the Department of Environmental Protection have been fielding noise complaints.
The Mars Hill Wind Farm, a 28-turbine system that will be fully operational by February, is New England’s biggest wind power operation. Evergreen Wind Power LLC of Bangor, a subsidiary of UPC Wind Management, spent four years and about $85 million on the project, which is expected to generate 42 megawatts of electricity annually. Officials said 16 of the turbines now are delivering power to the grid.
The town expects to receive about $500,000 a year in taxes for the next 20 years from the project, money that will be used to drop the town’s mill rate from 24 to 20 mills.
“We appreciate efforts to enhance the prosperity of the town,” resident Perrin Todd said Monday night. Todd lives on the Mountain Road, about 2,000 feet from the closest wind turbine. “However, the cost of this prosperity must not come at the expense of citizens in the form of ignorance, or lack of information that eventually becomes a venture misguided.”
Todd said many residents feel the town manager and council have “let the people down” by not looking out for their best interests. He pointed out that the town was a co-applicant on the permit application for the project, which included information about potential noise problems.
“This should have been a red flag,” Todd said.
Town Manager Ray Mersereau and town councilors said they did not read the entire permit application, which is about 5 inches thick. Mersereau said it “wasn’t germane to the process” to read the entire document as it was the company’s responsibility to ensure it met application requirements, and the DEP’s responsibility to review the information and decide whether to approve or deny the permit.
“We were told from day one that the noise was not an issue,” council Chairman Todd Grass told the crowd. “As far as us trying to railroad you into having to live with these … there’s no way we ever would have done that.”
Mersereau said the DEP’s findings in the permit state that “the applicants’ project will not have an unreasonable adverse impact on protected locations …”
The real human impact, one resident pointed out, is that he can’t sleep at night without a fan blowing in his room to drown out the sound of the wind turbines.
Resident Wendy Todd presented a map showing which homes around the mountain could be affected by turbine noise. Surrounding the map were pictures of the 18 homes.
“We’re not just numbers; we are real people with real houses,” she said as her voice broke with emotion.
Andy Perkins, a representative for Evergreen, said Monday night that a contractor has done some initial testing that indicates the company is within the DEP’s noise level requirement of less than 45 decibels.
Perkins said officials will run a comprehensive sound analysis around the mountain with the “complete input of the DEP.” The department will take its own sound measurements as well.
Perkins said that if noise levels exceed DEP rules, the company will have to address mitigation issues.
“If they’re out of spec, we’re required to bring them into spec,” he said.
While town officials and residents await the sound analysis results, residents are asking officials to visit the properties around the mountain often to witness the sounds for themselves.
“There is more at stake than just a ride around,” Perrin Todd said. “People live in the shadow of the towers, every hour, every minute, every day of the year.”
By Rachel Rice
Wednesday, January 31, 2007 – Bangor Daily News
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