The long-running dispute between the Willow Creek wind farm and a few of its neighbors is headed for Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals.
At least one party was unhappy with the Morrow County Court’s latest ruling on the issue this week. While the court agreed with the Morrow County Planning Commission that the wind farm broke the state noise rule at one home, Dan Williams’, it overturned the commission’s decision on the other neighbors.
The planning commission ruled in September that the 72-megawatt wind farm north of Ione broke the noise rule at four nearby homes. It gave Invenergy, the Chicago-based company that owns the farm, six months to comply.
Invenergy’s own acoustical expert, Michael Theriault from Portland, Maine, found the wind project exceeds the noise limit at three homes, but he argued such occasions are unusual and infrequent and therefore qualify for an exception under the rule.
At Mike and Sherry Eaton’s house, Theriault said, the wind farm exceeds the noise limit by one to four decibels 3 percent of the time the turbines are running. At Dave Mingo’s house, it exceeds by one to two decibels 6 percent of the time the turbines are running and, at Dan Williams’ house, the farm exceed the noise limit by one to eight decibels 10 percent of the time the turbines are spinning.
The neighbors’ noise expert, Kerrie Standlee, who has worked for state agencies including Morrow County, reviewed Theriault’s data and came to different conclusions. He said the wind farm violated the noise rule more often and by more decibels.
In its deliberations Tuesday, however, the county court relied on Invenergy’s noise study. Commissioner Leann Rea asked Invenergy’s lawyer, Jeff Condit, to repeat Theriault’s numbers. She then said she was inclined to take those homes at which the noise rule was violated by only a few decibels, “out of the equation.”
The term “unusual or infrequent,” she added, was open to interpretation.
The other two commissioners agreed. They also expressed frustration that the decision was in their hands. The Department of Environmental Quality wrote the noise rule, but no longer enforces it for lack of funding.
“They’ve got a rule that’s still on the books, according to what the Department of Justice is telling us,” County Judge Terry Tallman said. “(But) I’m certainly not in the business of enforcing something that the state … has failed to do.”
The court deliberated for less than half an hour. According to terms of the planning commission’s decision, Invenergy has six months to comply with the noise standard at Williams’ house, and it must then pay for another noise study or otherwise prove it is compliant.
The court will produce a final order on its decision later this month.
After the court’s unanimous vote, a lawyer for the neighbors, Jim McCandlish, asked the court to clarify the decision: Was the court saying the violations at Eatons’, Wades’ and Mingo’s homes were infrequent and unusual events?
Leann Rea said yes, Terry Tallman said no. He said he would only agree there was insufficient evidence to conclude the wind project violated the noise rule at those homes.
“I think we’ve made the motion and we’ve stated with sufficient clarity,” he added.
After the meeting, McCandlish said the three neighbors he represents, the Wades, the Eatons and Dan Williams, intend to appeal the court’s decision to the Land Use Board of Appeals, or LUBA.
“(They) intend to appeal Morrow County’s decision to allow Invenergy to continue violating statewide noise standards for up to another nine months,” he said. In particular, he added, the neighbors objected to allowing Invenergy to violate the standard at night when they are trying to sleep.
Invenergy would not say whether it intends to appeal the ruling. In a written statement, it said it would make that decision after looking at the court’s final order.
“As a committed neighbor and significant contributor to the ongoing economic development of Morrow County and the State of Oregon, Invenergy looks forward to reaching resolution of the current issue,” it said.
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