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Windmill noise still a concern for Bozek

In a last-ditch effort to stop a proposed change to the Fayette County zoning ordinance that would allow more noise to be produced by wind turbines, a man whose property abuts a proposed wind project urged the Fayette County commissioners on Tuesday not to make the change.

Thomas Bozek of Springhill Township, whose property is located near the site of the proposed South Chestnut Ridge project, attended the commissioners’ agenda meeting to speak against the proposed change, which would raise the allowable level from 55 decibels to 70 decibels measured at the property line.

The ordinance currently reads that the allowable sound level from the neighboring property line is 55 “dBA and dBC.”

Earlier this year, Iberdrola Renewables of Portland, Ore., a company that has been planning to construct the 23-tower wind project in Georges, Springhill and Wharton townships for years, was seeking for the ordinance to only include a measurement of 55 “dBA” decibels from an occupied structure, and exclude any reference to a “dBC” decibel level. The “A” scale is more widely used than the “C” scale for measuring sound.

However, commission Chairman Vincent Zapotosky then proposed that the decibel level be raised to 70, and that the measurement be taken from the property line and not at an occupied structure. He also agreed that the “C” scale should be dropped to keep the ordinance uniform because the rest of the sound measurements in it use the “A” scale.

Zapotosky convened a public hearing last month on the proposed change. At that hearing, Bozek presented a sound expert from Michigan who played a recording of wind turbines at 70 dBA decibels. The sound permeated the room, and a loud swoosh was intermittently heard.

Bozek has intervened in a court case regarding the wind turbines, claiming the proposed towers are too close to his property. He bought rural land with the intent of having a recording studio and building other homes for relatives, both plans he said are now in jeopardy.

“I’m not against wind power but you can’t affect people who don’t want to be affected,” Bozek said. “I just want to be left alone and I want my property protected,” he said.

Bozek said he fought very, very hard to have the dBC sound level scale in the ordinance. He said the “C” scale measures sounds at lower frequency, which wind turbines are likely to produce.

“The ‘A’ weighting doesn’t represent adequately the wind turbine noise,” Bozek said. “Sound is my biggest concern.”

Speaking during public comment on agenda items at the beginning of the meeting, Bozek and his attorney, Gary Altman, discussed the issue for more than an hour.

Bozek said he has spoken with Iberdola, and currently the closest proposed tower to his property is at 5,400 feet. He said if the turbine were moved to 6,600 feet, or about 1 1/4 mile, he would be content.

After a discussion ensued between Altman and Iberdrola representative Gary Verkleeren about the status of the case before Commonwealth Court, Commissioner Angela M. Zimmerlink pointed out that additional testimony wasn’t being taken at the time, but public comment for meeting agenda items.

Altman said he doesn’t think changing the ordinance would benefit the county and said people will complain once the turbines are up.

Bozek and Altman both said they think 70 decibels is too high, and that the “C” scale shouldn’t be taken out of the ordinance.

Bozek pointed out that the project could be built under the current ordinance because it is now permitted without a special exception, and the turbines haven’t been erected.

Later in the meeting, the commissioners voted 2-1 to place on Thursday’s agenda a motion to allow 70 dBA decibels at a neighboring lot line for wind turbines, with Zapotosky and Commissioner Vincent A. Vicites voting in favor and Zimmerlink voting against.

Zimmerlink had previously voted against making wind turbines a permitted use. She said she voted against the change not because she was against wind development, but because she thought it should still go before the zoning hearing board.

The entire wind turbine matter started in 2007 when Iberdrola filed petitions with the county zoning board asking for variances and special exceptions to permit construction of the project.

Following several hearings, the board denied all of the requests, prompting Iberdrola to appeal. It took two appeals to two Common Pleas Court judges before the zoning board, with numerous conditions, ultimately approved the turbines. Judge Steve Leskinen ruled some conditions unreasonable and in the meantime, the change was made allowing wind turbines as a permitted use, although the project has not yet commenced.

In another 2-1 vote, with Zapotosky and Vicites in favor and Zimmerlink against, the commissioners approved a motion to place a compensation plan for the Fayette County Behavioral Health Administration for July 1, through June 30, 2012. Lisa Ferris-Kusniar is requesting a 3 percent pay increase for non-union employees; 3 percent longevity increases; and 3 percent entry- level pay increases.

The commissioners unanimously voted to table a change to the zoning ordinance about methadone treatment centers after Zapotosky expressed concerns that the legal notice was different than the change listed on the agenda.

The commissioners unanimously ratified a settlement agreement between Fayette County and LLS Realty that will allow a methadone treatment center to open in Perry Township.

LLS had sued Fayette County in federal court for the right to run a methadone clinic. The Washington-based company also will receive $20,000. The settlement brings to an end litigation in which LLS Realty claimed that the county’s zoning ordinance was flawed, and that not allowing the methadone clinic at 3591 Pittsburgh Road amounted to constitutional violations.