For the first time, the state may factor people into the equation when it decides where and how to build a wind farm.
And people affected did respond during two days of meetings this week.
Sherry Eaton lives under a wind farm near Ione. She said it has exasperated problems for her husband, a Vietnam war veteran, and given her health problems, too.
“No sleep, that’s the main issue,” she said. “They wake you up continuously. They make you feel real jittery – like you just want to get away from it. Both my husband and I take sleeping pills. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.”
Oregon’s Office of Environmental Public Health (OOEPH) regulates things like clean drinking water and strives to provide protection from radiation and foodborne illness.
On Wednesday and Thursday it held meetings in La Grande, Pendleton and Arlington to hear peoples’ health concerns relating to wind turbines. About 60 people came to the La Grande session , 45 in Arlington and 25 in Pendleton.
Jae Douglas, who ran the sessions, said OOEPH will create a report to give to the Department of Energy, the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council and county commissioners. Those organizations have the decision making power on whether or not to include health concerns in wind development siting decisions.
Dennis Wade, of Ione, cut to the chase as the meeting began in Pendleton Thursday.
“How come all of the wind farms that go in have to do a study of the wildlife habitat and everything, but they don’t do a study of the humans in the area? Or the potential problems with wind turbines and humans?” he asked.
Douglas noted this is not in the OOEPH’s preview, but the Department of Energy requires wind companies to do an environmental impact statement that includes health. However, the requirement for fleshing out health concerns in that statement is arbitrary.
“We’re here because the Department of Energy began to hear, and we began to hear, about concerns directly related to health,” she said. “This is designed to move us in that direction to make sure health is addressed.”
The Pendleton meeting was held over lunch allowing only about a half hour for discussion. Those attending were split into two groups to lay out their concerns and issues.
Stress was near the top of the list.
Neighbors are fighting over the wind turbines. People feel like they have no say in where and when wind farms are built, and helplessness adds to the stress, people at the meeting said.
“It’s a community stress. Stress of neighbor against neighbor. It’s the stress of not trusting our government to do the right thing. It’s the whole stress of feeling helpless,” said Scott Hendricks, who lives near Milton-Freewater.
“Those things are not a basic part of people who are in our country, he continued. “ Generally we are a people who can control and need to be in control. (The turbines) are not in our control in any way, shape or form. And the fallout from that is just begging to be felt.”
Those voicing concerns weren’t the only ones at the meeting in Pendleton.
A handful of people working in the wind energy industry said they came to listen and get a better feeling of how people are reacting to wind farms.
So did local government officials. Umatilla County Commissioner Larry Givens, Umatilla County Planning Commissioner Frank Kaminski, and EFSC Chairman Bryan Wolfe were in attendance.
Umatilla County is in the process of writing new rules for wind farm development.
Givens asked people to describe the noise from turbines.
“It’s like a jet that never lands,” Eaton said.
“Like a train that never gets there,” Wade added. “It’s just constant, when the wind blows a certain direction.”
Kaminski said he was glad to hear peoples’ concerns, saying it will take meetings like this for things to change. He said he looks forward to OOEPH’s report.
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