HAMMOND – An ambitious agenda set forth by facilitator David B. Duff for Monday’s meeting of the Hammond Wind Advisory Committee went beside the wayside once again as two factions – those for wind power development in the community and those against it – continued their now years-long argument.
Contained on the agenda were six bulleted items, several of which remained unresolved following Charles E. Ebbing’s presentation on background noise.
Mr. Ebbing, who retired from Carrier in 1999 and said he brings 47 years of experience in acoustical engineering to the table, offered the committee a “Type 1 sound level meter,” as well as a tutorial conducted by himself and Clifford J. Schneider, in an effort to help the committee to establish Hammond’s background noise level.
The committee has said that such an experiment would assist it in making recommendations concerning sound standards to the town board.
Mr. Duff said the committee has been having trouble making recommendations because it was unsure about certain elements of sound.
Mr. Ebbing suggested that what the committee needs to know is the “typical range of the long term background noise in affected areas.” In other words, he explained, the term ambient noise – which encompasses all the sounds present in a given environment – is a bit misleading when it comes to establishing a law that would protect non-participants.
Ambient sound, he said, includes many sources of sound, both near and far. Examples included intermittent events, such as vehicle and aircraft movement, as well as gusts of wind. Also insects, birds, animals and people.
“This is not considered part of the long term background noise,” he said, noting that background sound level is “the sound present 90 percent of the time for the given soundscape.” This is known, logrithmically he said, as L90.
Background sounds, Mr. Ebbing said, are those heard during “lulls” in the ambient sound environment and can be detected using a Type 1 sound meter.
“That is,” he said, “when transient sounds from flora, fauna and wind are not present.” Dusk and dawn, he said, when people and animals are active and sound levels are elevated, are not good times to measure the background sound level.
Instead, Mr. Ebbing suggested, background sound levels of interest include the quieter times, during the evening and the middle of the night.
“Sounds from birds, animals and people must be excluded from background sound in order to truly and honestly test the data,” he said, adding that electrical noise, such as that produced by streetlights, transformers and air conditioning units, can also be troublesome for sound meters.
Mr. Ebbing said that noise is subjective and that those with wind leases hear just one sound: “ka-ching.”
“Attitudes towards turbines depends on whether you are a participant or not,” he said.
In rural areas like Hammond, he continued, where traffic is infrequent and the lulls he spoke of are common, its easy to hear and locate distant noise sources. Few people, few machines and little man-made noise, he said, coupled with the “Silent Nights” those in Hammond are accustomed to, are a real draw to those looking at property in this area.
He said he expects the background noise level in Hammond to be somewhere between 25 and 35 dBA, while the wind industry, he said, says its between 40 and 45 dBA.
“I just don’t see how that’s possible,” he said of the second set of numbers.
Following Mr. Ebbing’s presentation, the pro-wind faction of Hammond residents peppered him with questions about his credentials, who he was “in cahoots” with, and his professional ability. They questioned the credibility of his study, saying it was unscientific and biased as well as controlled. They pitted him against the wind companies and told him that he and the wind committee were not qualified to conduct such a study. In the midst of the meeting, Town Supervisor Ronald W. Bertram took the floor, explaining that despite what some members of the community thought, the wind committee’s activity was very valuable and that he thought a study such as the one Mr. Ebbing suggested would allow the committee to get a real sense of the problem it’s dealing with.
However, he also said that he didn’t expect the study to produce a “magic number” about sound that would then be inserted into a new version of the wind law.
Mr. Bertram also addressed the issue of time, saying that despite the one-year moratorium extension that was passed in July by the town board, he expected the wind committee’s work to be done by December. He also explained that his idea of consensus, which the committee is having trouble arriving at on any issue, has been altered.
“I have no problem with a majority opinion, for lack of a better word, based on science. Minority reports will also be considered,” the supervisor said.
After that, the meeting fell once again into a back and forth between residents, Mr. Ebbing and Mr. Duff.
Several members of the committee did volunteer to participate if such a study were to take place, but the agenda fell apart from there on.
Items on the agenda left unresolved included the long term agenda for the committee and the continuation of a prior discussion regarding property line versus residence for measuring setbacks, as well as whether sound standards would be fixed or relative. Committee member Frederick A. Proven suggested briefly revisiting the sound issue at the next meeting and moving on to other issues if the committee cannot come up with a recommendation at that point.
Committee member Leonard Bickelhaupt suggested moving on to economic impacts, such as the Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreements that are common for such projects.
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