Concern about noise impact on neighbors again delayed a vote to allow residential windmills in the Town of Ithaca.
At a Monday night meeting, the Town Board voted 4-3 to send the law back to committee. Town Supervisor Herb Engman and board members Pat Leary and Bill Goodman voted against, hoping to get the law passed Monday.
During last month’s well-attended meeting on the law, the board heard concerns from town residents that allowing a 10-decibel increase above ambient sound level, as measured at a neighbor’s property line, was too high.
During committee meetings this month, board members reduced that to 8 decibels, but then added language allowing wind energy facilities to create up to 60 decibels of noise, “whichever is greater.”
Another public hearing on the law is scheduled for the Town Board’s Aug. 11 meeting at 6:20 p.m. in Town Hall, 215 N. Tioga St.
Ambient sound exists virtually everywhere – cars driving past, wind and crickets were examples cited at the meeting.
According to a 1970s study by the Environmental Protection Agency, the average ambient noise level in urban areas is 59 decibels. In suburbs, it’s 49 decibels. In rural areas, it’s 43.
Board member Rich DePaolo called the change in the law a “loophole” that would potentially allow “the noisiest windmills in the quietest areas.”
“I think it applies the law unequally, based on where you live,” DePaolo said.
For example, if someone lives in a very quiet area, with background noise at 30 decibels, the town’s law could allow a windmill that makes an additional 30 decibels of noise, DePaolo argued.
Board member Peter Stein agreed and said he thought it was a misprint that the law would allow a noise increase of “whichever is greater.”
Engman argued that 60 decibels is not “terribly unusual.”
He said he lives near a stream that he hears constantly but that it doesn’t bother him because he’s become accustomed to it. Other people may hear the constant hum of their neighbor’s air conditioning units, he said.
Encouraging alternative energy in the town is important enough to allow some increases in noise level, he argued.
“People will adjust, both visually and audially,” he said.
Goodman, Leary, Engman, and board member Eric Levine all sit on the Codes and Ordinances committee, which passed the change onto the Town Board. And all voted for it in committee, they reported.
Levine was the only member of the committee who voted to send it back to committee.
By Krisy Gashler
8 July 2008
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