Hamlin is a small step closer to regulating the placement of wind towers. At its Feb. 25 meeting, Hamlin’s Town Board announced that its members have agreed on two key provisions of the town’s proposed Local Law Governing Wind Energy Facilities – minimum setbacks and maximum allowable sound levels.
“We were able to work out an accommodation – a compromise,” said Hamlin Supervisor Dennis Roach.
Roach and Board members Thomas Breslawski and Dave Rose have settled on a setback of 1,200 feet – the minimum distance one of the wind-driven electricity generators would have to stand from homes.
The Town Board plans to hold a public hearing on the proposed regulations April 10, and hopes to vote on them on April 24.
Wind towers have been a contentious issue since 2006, when a Maryland energy company began examining the possibility of using the 400-foot-tall towers to generate power in the town. If conditions are right, energy giant Iberdrola, which purchased the Maryland company, may ask town officials for permission to build one or more towers in Hamlin.
At least three Hamlin landowners have leased potential tower sites to Iberdrola.
Hamlin has grown more divided as the Town Board has tried to write regulations governing tower placement.
Residents who view the towers as noisy, obtrusive giants that threaten the health of Hamlin’s residents and the rural nature of the town have pushed for setbacks of as much as 2,640 feet. Others who see them as largely harmless sources of rental income for local farmers and landowners have pushed for a setback of as little as 1,000 feet. Some board members have been caught in the controversy’s back draft.
“I don’t even go out to dinner in town anymore,” board member Michael Marchetti said. People even raise the setback issue with him in the local grocery store.
Even the Board was deadlocked on the issue until recently. Roach and Rose originally supported a 1,500-foot minimum distance and Breslawski and Marchetti pushed for 1,000 feet, the setback in the original proposed regulations. Board member Paul Rath, who has leased property to a wind-tower developer, has recused himself from official discussions.
While lowering the proposed setback, the board also raised the standard for judging a tower’s sound output.
“We’ve established a more stringent sound pressure level,” Roach said.
Here’s the way it works: The original standard allowed a tower to put out no more than 50 decibels of sound, or no more than five decibels of sound over the ambient sound of the area, as measured at the wall of the closest neighboring residence. If the ambient sound – the sounds occurring naturally in the area – is less than 50 decibels, the tower would be allowed to add to that only up to a total of 50 decibels. On the other hand, if the ambient sound measured, say, 60 decibels, the tower would be allowed to add only five decibels to the total in the area, bringing it to no more than 65 decibels. Many who’ve spoken out about the towers have been dissatisfied with both standards.
“Many of the people who were concerned about sound felt that 50 would be annoying,” Roach said.
The proposed new limit on tower-generated sound is six decibels over ambient sound.
“It tends to line up with what is acceptable and it certainly is what the (state Department of Environmental Conservation) uses as a standard,” Roach said, referring to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Clinical audiologist Matthew MacDonald, who has addressed the board on the issues of tower-generated sound, isn’t satisfied with the new six-decibel limit.
“It’s the equivalent of sitting in a quiet office and having somebody come in and start talking to you,” MacDonald said.
The Hamlin resident, who has visited wind tower sites in Fenner, New York, said the machines make a variety of sounds as their blades turn, many of which could be disturbing to those living nearby.
“When these things turn, you’ve got metal on metal,” MacDonald said.
The low-pitched thump of the blades adds to the noise, he said.
He also disagreed with the proposed 1,200-foot setback.
“You’d better write zoning laws that are at least protective,” MacDonald said. “Three thousand feet would be the minimum.”
He’d also weight the measurement of ambient sound to the quietest parts of the day.
“When your environment is quietest, that’s when there’s a higher probability of when the sound level is going to be disturbing,” he said.
Dave Martin, part owner of Martin Farms, sees the 1,200-foot setback as evidence of progress on the issues.
“It’s better than 1,700 feet or a half a mile,” said the farmer, whose family owns 225 acres in Hamlin. “It would allow the towers to be closer to a boundary line, otherwise you were going to have a limited number of towers erected.”
Though tower developers haven’t approached him, Martin said leasing space to them would offset the growing cost doing business.
“The taxes keep creeping up every year,” Martin said. “Why not?”
He doesn’t think wind towers pose risks to those living nearby. “If it was a big problem, I think you wouldn’t see as many around as now,” he said.
However you view the proposed regulations, Roach and Breslawski cautioned that they’re only a starting point. Before construction can begin, state law requires that a State Environmental Quality Review be conducted of the effects a wind tower could have on the local environment. The study’s recommendations would be the final, deciding factor in the placement of towers.
“I believe that SEQR is really going to be the defining setback,” Breslawski said.
By Mike Costanza, correspondent
11 March 2008
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