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Fayette County approves higher wind turbine noise limit

By a 2-1 vote, Fayette County commissioners yesterday approved a zoning amendment that increases the maximum allowable noise generated by wind turbines.

Commissioners Vincent Zapotosky and Vincent Vicites voted in favor of the amendment. It raises the permitted decibel level to 70 at property lines, instead of 55 at a house.

Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink opposed the change.

Prior to the vote, Thomas Bozek of Springhill and his attorney, Gary Altman, reiterated their longstanding opposition. Bozek, who owns property within 5,500 feet of a proposed wind turbine, said the change will interfere with his plans to record music and build more homes on his land.

Bozek questioned the need for the change, noting that in previous hearings, the 55-decibel limit was deemed acceptable.

Altman said the higher limit might prove politically fatal to Vicites and Zapotosky.

“I think you two are possibly committing political suicide,” Altman said. “You are going way further than you have to, to accommodate these people.”

Zapotosky said the county can change the ordinance, if the higher limit is found to be unacceptable.

“If this does not work, it is our responsibility as a board of commissioners to correct it,” Zapotosky said. “If we see this is not functioning properly, I’ll be the first one to admit my mistake and revisit this.”

With the amendment approved, Iberdrola Renewables anticipates starting construction on 23 wind turbines by next summer, said Gary Verkleeren. Verkleeren said site work on the company’s South Chestnut Ridge project, including timbering, has started.

Verkleeren yesterday said noise from the wind turbines is not expected to go as high as 70 decibels, but the higher limit “gives us plenty of margin to operate safe.”

Iberdrola did not request the higher decibel level.

Zapotosky, who proposed the amendment, noted that a Fayette County judge deemed 70 decibels acceptable in a related court opinion. In addition, Zapotosky said the amendment puts the restriction at a property line, as opposed to a house.

Vicites yesterday said he favors alternative energy sources, and anticipates wind turbines could result in lower electric bills for residents. In addition, he said they will mark Fayette as a leader in renewable energy.

Zimmerlink said she favored keeping the ordinance as it was, for reasons that included the 55-decibel limit.

In an unrelated matter, commissioners ratified a settlement agreement with LLS Realty of Washington County that will allow the company to open a methadone clinic on Route 51 in Perry.

The agreement settles a federal lawsuit LLS Realty filed in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh because the zoning hearing board denied a special exception for the clinic. The board said the treatment facility would have been within 1,000 feet of residences and within a PennDOT right of way.

LLS claimed in its lawsuit that the section of the ordinance that prohibits placing a methadone clinic within 1,000 feet of residences, schools, public playgrounds, parks, hospitals or places of worship is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Terms of the settlement call for the county to acknowledge that its zoning restrictions on methadone clinics are unenforceable under state and federal law. The county is to allow the clinic to operate as a permitted use as a medical office or clinic, and it is to pay LLS Realty $20,000.