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Clayton residents want stricter sound regulations in proposed wind power development law

CLAYTON – A handful of property owners asked the Town Council to approve stricter sound limits for wind power development in a proposed zoning law amendment.

The amendment under consideration, forwarded by Supervisor Justin A. Taylor, does not make sound limits more restrictive than the 50-decibel limit in the law originally passed in 2007.

But an amendment that grew out of the town’s wind committee, which failed to pass last year, included a relative restriction of five decibels above ambient sound.

“So on clear nights, the noise the turbines will be allowed to make will be a 20- to 30-decibel increase over ambient noise,” said Charles E. Ebbing, a Grindstone Island resident and retired acoustic engineer. “And that will mean loss of sleep. When you disrupt sleep, you’re going to have health problems.”

Former wind committee member Jamie M. Lee said scientific studies and guidelines from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and World Health Organization backed the limit related to ambient noise. If the town were concerned about the option for a state-controlled Article X process deeming a town law unreasonable, the studies and standards should cover the town, she said.

The Article X possibility was the reason Mr. Taylor cited in not using a relative standards.

“If the law is deemed reasonable, it is not likely to bring state involvement,” he said. “Without a factual, measurable and enforceable law, it could spark an Article X review and limit our control over what’s happening in our own back yard.”

He said the proposed amendments aim “to protect community members and the local community” by implementing more stringent setbacks, the distance from items where turbines are not allowed.

The current law establishes setbacks of 500 feet from property lines and public highways and 1,250 feet from nonparticipating residences and public buildings.

The proposed amendment would require 1,250-foot setbacks from the property lines of nonparticipants, leaving participating property owners with a 500-foot setback from their boundaries.

Kenneth J. Knapp, who lives near the wind overlay district, thanked the board for the setback from property lines, but reminded them that turbines come in different sizes and could continue to grow in size.

“Rather than pick an arbitrary number, it should be a multiple of the height of the turbine,” he said. The town’s wind committee had proposed 2.5 times the turbine’s height from participating residences and 3.5 times the height from nonparticipating residents’ property lines.

Seven members of the public who spoke on the proposed amendment, all wanting additional restrictions, out of about two dozen people who attended the public hearing for the law.

The town has referred the proposed zoning law amendment to Jefferson County Planning Board, which will discuss and make comments on July 26. Mr. Taylor said the Town Council will not consider the law at its July 27 meeting on Grindstone Island, but will wait until the Aug. 10 meeting to take action.

Meanwhile, the movement to a proposed wind project has stalled again because of the proposed amendment. In a June 22 letter from Young, Sommer, Ward, Ritzenberg, Baker & Moore LLC, Iberdrola Renewables agreed to suspension of the Planning Board’s review of the proposed Horse Creek Wind Farm’ draft environmental impact statement. The Planning Board is holding up the review while the Town Council considers the zoning law amendment.

The council did vote to make Planning Board member John W. Kehoe an alternate and alternate Duane C. Hazelton a member due to Mr. Kehoe’s time away from Clayton as a seasonal resident. The council also raised the town’s mileage reimbursement rate to 55.5 cents from 51 cents, following the federal Internal Revenue Service. And the council voted to sell a town dump truck to the town of Pinckney for $13,000.