CAPE VINCENT – Supervisor Urban C. Hirschey floated the idea not once, but twice, for a townwide sound study to help the town Planning Board consider two proposed wind power projects during Thursday’s Town Council meeting – to no avail.
The idea failed to gain a majority of the council’s support both times, with Mr. Hirschey and Councilman Brooks J. Bragdon voting for the resolution, while Councilman Mickey W. Orvis opposed it. Councilmen Marty T. Mason and Donald J. Mason recused themselves.
“This could give some credibility to the placement of turbines,” Mr. Hirschey said. “The money we spend on it will save us 10 times that amount in potential lawsuits.”
The resolutions called for the town’s acoustic engineering firm, Cavanaugh Tocci Associates, Sudbury, Mass., to take sound measurements in the town and prepare a report on the background sound levels in the town.
Mr. Hirschey cited the wide difference between the results of the two wind project developers’ study and one commissioned by the opposition group Wind Power Ethics Group.
In the two developers’ study, Hessler Associates Inc., Haymarket, Va., determined background sound averaged 44 decibels during the summer and 37 decibels during the winter when the wind blows. The opposition group’s study, done by Schomer & Associates, Champaign, Ill., found that the noise averaged 30 decibels, with the quietest nighttime hours at 20 decibels and the entire night at 25 decibels.
The developers claim that their turbine placements would not exceed the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s guideline of generated noise not adding more than 6 decibels onto background noise levels. More noise than that is likely to cause irritation to people.
“We need an analysis that will have the confidence of the people,” he said.
Both Mr. Hirschey and Mr. Bragdon said the Planning Board supported the idea on Wednesday night.
The study would cost $22,050.
“Why don’t we have to go out to bid?” asked Mr. Orvis.
Mr. Hirschey said, “For one, it’s professional services.”
After the first vote went down, Mr. Hirschey resurrected the motion at the end of the meeting, this time saying “with no cost to the town.”
“Who’s going to pay for it?” Donald Mason asked.
Mr. Hirschey said, “The town attorney said it can be any organization that wishes to make a contribution to it, a person or conceivably one of the developers, because it’s an integral part of site plan review.”
Mr. Mason said, “I don’t know if it’s legal at this point.”
After the vote remained 2-1 with two abstentions, Mr. Hirschey said to Mr. Orvis, “It’s clear that you will not support a sound study townwide to be made by the consultant, hired by the town originally, for whatever reason not stated and I presume you’re happy to go along with not good sound data and take the consequences of using the information we have.”
Mr. Orvis said, “I voted on the resolution you proposed.”
Mr. Hirschey asked the other councilmen why they recused themselves.
“We’re under investigation,” Marty Mason said.
Donald Mason said, “I’m under contract, and I will not vote on wind issues.”
The study proposal would have included 10 measuring sites characteristic of the different types of areas in the town. All 10 would collect sound data on the ambient noise, A-weighted to mimic the way people perceive noise. Two would also collect C-weighted noise, which gives more equality to low-frequency noise, which people could feel.
Using those characterizations, the engineers can have a sense of the ambient noise landscape.
During a report on the Planning Board’s action, Mr. Bragdon mentioned that the board had discussed whether the town would pay legal fees for representation of town officers during interviews as part of the state attorney general’s investigation of potential misdeeds related to wind power development.
Mr. Mason asked whether the town would pay those bills.
Mr. Hirschey said the town has directors and officers liability insurance, which is “good for defending a town-appointed person if there is a claim, but if there is no claim, there is no coverage.”
A town officer who wants legal representation at an interview or before charges or claims are filed would be responsible for covering the cost, he said.
“Isn’t it the responsibility of the town to have a lawyer with you if you want one?” Mr. Mason said. “I’m not saying it’s not going to be expensive, but town employees have the right to an attorney.”
Mr. Hirschey said the town attorney, Mark G. Gebo, had identified a town law that said it is the officer’s personal responsibility.
“He said if the town board wanted him to be present during interviews, he could do that, but he would basically be representing the town, not the individual,” Mr. Hirschey said.
Mr. Mason said, “I’d like to see it stated in the law to see what it says.”
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