BYRON – A hornet’s nest has been stirred up in Byron with several proposed changes to the town’s building ordinance that would make it possible for wind towers to be put up in the town.
The angst was displayed at a public hearing on Feb. 21. Byron’s planning board took in suggestions and criticism on what changes should be made to the ordinance, as well as listening to many in the room explain why they opposed having wind towers constructed on a mountain ridge. Residents are expected to get the chance to vote on the changes at the March 10 Annual Town Meeting.
“If we approve this thing here, do we have any recourse as far as disapproving the project?” asked resident Roger Boucher.
Independence Wind, LLC has proposed a wind energy project in Roxbury and Byron and is collecting and studying wind data to determine the feasibility of constructing towers on Record Hill, Partridge Peak, and Flathead Mountain.
“This power is all going to be gridded out of state,” Boucher continued.
“Once we do this, we’ve got no cards. They can do what they want to.”
“I’m all for green, but I’m not for these towers over here tripling my taxes. I’m going to walk out my door and see those towers for the rest of my life, and my kids are, too.”
The proposed changes to the ordinance included the life of permits for wind turbines, which would be four years after they are approved as opposed to two years for other structures. Also, the towers can be up to 450 feet in height.
“As it was explained, the initial intent of the height limitation was for ease of fighting fires,” said planning board chairman David Duguay. He added that wind turbine blazes would be self-contained.
“What guarantee do you have that a fire would be self-contained?” asked resident Norman Young.
Rob Gardiner, representing Independence Wind, noted that the chances of a wind turbine fire were “extremely unlikely. There haven’t been any in the last 10 years of wind turbines.”
The noise and visual impacts of the wind towers were of grave concern to a number of those present. Gardiner noted that almost all of the wind on the proposed Byron-Roxbury site comes from the north or northwest and that only in certain situations would people within 3,000 feet of the east side of the towers hear the blades turning.
“It’s not a problem at over 3,000 feet,” he stated.
“It is a problem,” disagreed Sarah Nedeau, a camp owner on Garland Pond. She explained that she had researched the Mars Hill wind tower project and had discovered that there were numerous complaints from residents over 3,000 feet away from the towers who had to listen to the blade noise, often described as a “whooshing” sound.
“Everyone seems to be focusing on this particular project. It could go anywhere in the community,” she added.
Gardiner said that this was contrary to what he had learned in talking with residents living near the Mars Hill wind farm. “They told us that once you get past 3,000 feet there were no problems. Most wind farms have not had a lot of noise problems.”
Winds of less than nine miles per hour are not enough to turn the turbines. In winds of slightly more than nine miles per hour that are not strong enough to drown out the blade noise, residents living near wind projects have reported that they can hear the blades turning.
Ken Poole, who noted that he would soon be a Byron resident, pressed the planning board to put in specific standards regarding the noise produced. He observed that the developers had promised the town that there would be no noise issues produced by the wind farm and that they should be able to comply with a zero decibel requirement.
The trouble with measuring noise, Gardiner pointed out, “is it’s a subjective thing. Different people react differently. Measuring those subjective things is hard.”
He added that the Dept. of Environmental Protection was considering changing its noise standards for such projects in wake of the Mars Hill complaints.
Judy Boucher urged a cautious approach in considering changes to the Byron ordinance. “I don’t see what the hurry is. This is a really important issue.”
She noted that with town meeting coming up shortly, the time crunch would result in a hurried decision and Boucher urged the creation of a separate ordinance dealing specifically with the wind towers to be hashed out over several months.
Planning board member Anne Edmunds took a different view of the wind tower proposal. “If you enjoy paying $14,000 a month for school taxes, then don’t change a thing,” she said. “What they’re proposing will lower our taxes when it comes to kids going to school. I, for one, support the project.”
The planning board had sent out an informational survey to Byron citizens, with 23 households returning it. Of the returns, 17 people were in favor of the project, five were against, and one was neutral. As for the estimated tax impact, Gardiner told the skeptical gathering that they would certainly see a decrease in their taxes.
“Do you have to have this ordinance changed within the next two weeks or can it wait six months?” asked Judy Boucher of Gardiner.
“It would be a question of what restrictions were in the new ordinance,” Gardiner responded.
Gretchen Narucki, who owns property in Byron along with her husband Jeff, extolled the virtues of living in the community in a letter that she gave to citizens at the meeting. In it, she lamented how the wind towers would forever change the town’s scenic character.
“There simply is no compensation high enough to justify the extreme impact that would result from this project and its effect on the town,” she wrote.
“An industrial project of this scale and visibility will have an enormous negative impact; affecting not only views and property values but altering the very character of the town itself.”
Kevin Scott, an Andover resident who is also a Byron property owner, spoke of the large footprint the towers would put on the landscape for a minimal energy benefit for local citizens.
“450 feet is a big addition to the wilderness here in western Maine. We’re not really prohibiting any fossil fuels by putting a wind farm in western Maine. I think there are other alternatives. There are other ways of harnessing this asset and may not include shipping it out of town.”
The planning board is continuing to work to revise the document based in large part on citizen input. Duguay said that he hoped to have a large voter turnout and a clear mandate on the ordinance at town meeting.
“Frankly, we think it is one of the best places in the state of Maine,” said Gardiner of the location. “We think it’s acceptable, but some people don’t agree with us.”
Poole had a different perspective. “This is a residential community. It’s a beautiful community the way it is. This satisfies these people’s needs to turn this community into an industrial community.”
“As a future resident, I hate to see the town destroyed by something such as this.”
by Barry Matulaitis
27 February 2008
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