The appeal by disgruntled neighbors of a proposed wind turbine project in Freedom moved into its second session in as many weeks Thursday evening with disparaging “earwitness” testimony about the disturbing sound the spinning rotor blades are said to make.
In the latest round before the town appeals board, it was also revealed a federal postal investigator was in town earlier this week looking into what happened to some notices of appeal of the project supposedly mailed last month to the town office by a Bangor attorney that by all accounts never arrived at their destination.
Perrin Todd drove three and a half hours Tuesday from his home in Mars Hill to tell about what it’s like to live next-door to an operating wind farm. What he had to say was not encouraging for Steve Bennett and other property owners near the Beaver Ridge site where Competitive Energy Services (CES), a national firm with offices in Portland, is prepared to invest up to $12 million to erect three1.5 MW tower-mounted wind turbines on a 75-acre parcel owned by local farmer Ron Price.
Bennett and 26 other neighbors are parties in an appeal of a Jan. 4 town planning board decision to permit the project. They have hired Bangor attorney Ed Bearor who was present at both this week’s and last week’s sessions.
After a couple of challenges by the three CES representatives present, Freedom town attorney Al Stevens agreed with Bearor’s assessment “your standard of review is not the same as the courts’. This is a de novo hearing”–meaning the appeals board was to consider new evidence.
The CES representatives earlier argued that testimony about conditions at one particular wind turbine site are not relevant to the proposed Beaver Ridge project because, according to company principal Richard Silkman, “there are thousands upon thousands of these projects.” If the appellants wish to enter testimony into the record about one particular site, he asserted, “They need to bring in the full scope of all these projects.”
“I’m not quite sure what Mr. Silkman is afraid of,” commented Bearor.
Stevens advised board chair Addison Chase the board could do as it wished including allowing Todd to speak but not giving his testimony any weight. “It’s really up to you,” he said. Recently appointed board member Lissa Widoff said she trusted the board’s ability to discern what was useful and what was not. “We can make that decision as he speaks,” she said. “We’ve done that with every speaker.”
Todd said he could look out his kitchen window and see four of the 28 tower-mounted turbines that make up the Mars Hill wind farm. This is the largest such facility in New England. The turbines were erected last fall and about half of them are currently operational. Like the three proposed at Beaver Ridge, these General Electric models are rated at 1.5 MW. The nearest turbine, mounted in a pivoting nacelle housing atop a 262-foot tower, is located about 2,100 feet from Todd’s newly built home.
The Mars Hill man cautioned townspeople about what to expect, describing the sound emanating from the turbines as “a troubling pulsating noise.” He said he had used a digital sound-level meter on a number of occasions with two, three and six turbines at a time running. In the course of one 30-day period, he said, he recorded half a dozen occasions when levels exceeded the maximum 45 decibels project owners had assured people in his neighborhood. “I’m a working man. I have a family,” he said. “I can’t very well stand there [with the meter] 24/7 but when I say the conditions are 24/7 that’s what they are.”
Todd said the turbine rotors create “a very different sound, a not very pleasant sound” but something everyone around him has been forced to adapt to. He said his brother-in-law, who also lives 2,100 feet from one turbine, found “the pulsating of the rotor” so personally disruptive he’s had to run a fan in the house all the time to produce a white noise to blanket it over.
“I’m not against alternative methods of energy,” Todd told the appeals board. “I am against the withholding of factual information of this magnitude”¦Our problem is the lack of accountability and responsibility of our town officials.”
Todd’s testimony was fodder for Bearor and Bennett as they pointed out to the board that some of those engaged in the appeal including Bennett himself live half the distance the Mars Hill man does to a proposed turbine site.
After Jay Gruber, Freedom’s code enforcement officer, distributed copies of a front page article from the Jan. 26 edition of the Bangor Daily News about the neighbors’ complaints in Mars Hill, Widoff complained that the previous week board members agreed information from newspaper accounts should merely be regarded as anecdotal evidence.
Silkman pointed out the same newspaper article also noted a 2003 study that predicted 35 homes adjacent to the site could expect to experience sound readings that on occasion would top 55 decibels, so it should not be surprising this is what has happened. He iterated his earlier point that individual projects should be assessed on their own merits because “every situation is very different.”
Other issues taken up Thursday included the town’s alleged inability to provide fire suppression and rescue services to the Beaver Ridge facility; continuing arguments that the project lacks adequate storm water management provisions; the possibility for an eminent domain taking to provide utility access to the site; and the possibility that since the site, while a piece of working farmland and taxed as such, is not registered as farmland and open space it may not have adequate setbacks to accommodate the turbine towers.
Also at Thursday’s session, Bennett revealed at the start of the meeting he had spoken over the telephone with Laurie Cox, the town postmaster, and she had told him she had seen “all those letters” Bearor had sent to the town office. He said a federal postal inspector was looking into the matter. Earlier, the fact the three appeals letters Bearor said he sent to the town at the town office address apparently never arrived was basis for some individuals challenging the validity of the appeal. Chase subsequently ruled the appeal could go forward.
At the close of the session, Chase said he was told the postal inspector was preparing a report about the incident and Selectman Tim Biggs made a point of emphasizing that Cox was not at all certain which if any of the letters she had actually seen.
Just before adjourning, Chase told the gathering of some 40 townspeople in the basement of the Freedom Congregational Church he expected the board would hear perhaps 15 minutes of testimony at the next such session, at the same time and location next Thursday, then the members would recess for deliberations. He said a decision might be reached at that time. If not, the board would tentatively meet March 8.
By Peter Taber