CAPE VINCENT – The town Planning Board approved St. Lawrence Wind Farm’s final environmental impact statement, finding that noise levels in the proposed wind farm are unlikely to exceed state thresholds and accepting the developer’s proposal for a noise complaint resolution plan.
The Planning Board approved the impact statement and its own findings Sept. 15. Those actions complete the environmental review process under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.
The findings were obtained through a Freedom of Information request. Attorney Todd M. Mathes, Whiteman Osterman & Hanna, Albany, said in an e-mail that the requirement for a Freedom of Information request was to ensure a timely response “given the absence of a clerk.” Former Town Clerk Jeri Ann Mason resigned Sept. 15.
The board’s action recognizes the studies that developer Acciona Wind Energy USA completed, permits that state and federal agencies have required and mitigation measures that the developer proposed.
“The benefits to the Town outweigh the identified environmental impacts associated with the project, all of which have been minimized to the maximum extent practicable,” the findings said.
The two noise firms – the developer’s primary consultant, Hessler Associates Inc., Haymarket, Va., and the town’s independent noise consultant, Cavanaugh Tocci Associates Inc., Sudbury, Mass. – sent dueling opinions on noise levels in the months leading up to the final statement’s acceptance.
David M. Hessler used sound levels that were an average of 44 decibels during the summer and 37 decibels during the winter when the wind is blowing.
According to a state Department of Environmental Conservation guideline, noise exceeding 6 decibels above ambient is considered intrusive or objectionable. If ambient noise levels have been overstated in the impact statement, it will allow higher levels of noise from turbines without violating DEC limits.
Hessler Associates’ analysis showed the array of turbines would not create noise above 6 decibels above ambient.
“As acknowledged by each of Hessler’s analyses and reports, wind and weather conditions will develop from time to time causing Project sound levels to increase over the nominally predicted level,” the findings said.
William J. Elliot of Cavanaugh Tocci said Hessler’s data did not statistically support the correlation between wind speed and noise. To get a stronger correlation, the wind speed and noise levels would have to be taken at the same location, but they were not, he said.
Cavanaugh Tocci experts had measurements that averaged 5 decibels below the levels Mr. Hessler predicted in his regression analysis. They recorded the sound levels at specific wind speeds.
“While CTA’s more conservative approach is instructive, in either case, total noise from Project operation, even during the wintertime condition … should generally remain below levels which would be considered unacceptable for a rural nighttime environment (45dBA),” the findings said.
The developer proposed a noise complaint resolution plan to rectify cases in which generated noise exceeds background conditions above the DEC guideline of 6 decibels.
“The implementation of such a plan will fully and adequately address the risk, in the event that the background noise is, in fact, closer to the more conservative levels determined by CTA than to the levels determined by Hessler,” the findings said.
To follow that plan, the developer will have a community relations employee explain ambient noise before construction, have safety and environmental compliance briefings, create channels for registering a complaint and formalize a resolution process.
Acciona may now submit a complete site plan application for the 51-turbine wind power project. Planning Board Chairman Richard J. Edsall said the board, at a regular monthly meeting, would set a date to accept the application. The board then would accept it on that date, at a special meeting. A public hearing would occur within two months and the board must act two months later.
The findings repeat the benefits: no emissions from the project, four to six permanent jobs, about 200 construction jobs and money for the taxing jurisdictions based on a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement.
The findings outline some unavoidable adverse impacts, including soil and water disturbance from site preparation. Long-term effects include visual intrusion, noise production, wildlife habitat changes and some bird and bat deaths.
“With the incorporation of these mitigation measures, the Project is expected to result in positive, long-term overall impacts that will offset the adverse effects that cannot otherwise be avoided,” the findings said.
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