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Orleans Town Council to consider strict wind power zoning regulations

LAFARGEVILLE – The Orleans Town Council is weighing zoning law amendments that will make its rules for wind turbine placement among the most restrictive in the region.

The town of Henderson banned all wind energy towers in November. Orleans would still allow commercial and residential turbines, but the noise and setback rules would make placing turbines in the town very difficult. A public hearing continued from Aug. 11 will be reconvened at 8 p.m. Sept. 8 at the town offices, 20558 Sunrise Ave. Copies of the law are available at the town office.

The law was written and reviewed by the Planning Board after the town’s Wind Committee made zoning recommendations in October 2009 and a Wind Economics Committee made further recommendations in May 2010.

“The Planning Board wrote it, which basically went with what the committee members had suggested – it’s very strict,” town Supervisor Donna J. Chatterton said. “Pretty much, it’s a stop to having any, but they can change it.”

The proposed law would push turbines away from neighboring property lines, roads, the St. Lawrence River, neighboring town lines, state- and federally regulated wetlands and residential, historic, school and wildlife refuge areas by 3,000 feet or 10 times the diameter of a turbine’s blade sweep area, whichever is greater.

The noise regulation sets absolute levels for daytime, evening and nighttime in both the A-weighted, or basically audible spectrum, and C-weighted, or low-frequency, noise levels. If the background noise is greater than five decibels below the standard, the allowed noise level would be five decibels above the background noise level.

For example, the allowed noise level for daytime, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., is 45 decibels on the A-weighted scale and 63 decibels on the C-weighted scale. But if the A-weighted background noise during that period reaches 44 decibels, the allowed limit would be 49 decibels. If the turbines emit a steady pure tone, which sounds like a whine, screech or hum, the allowed noise limit is decreased by five decibels.

During the evening period, 7 to 10 p.m., the law would allow 40 decibels in the A-weighted scale and 58 decibels in the C-weighted scale. And during the nighttime period, from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., the law would allow 35 decibels in the A-weighted scale and 53 decibels in the C-weighted scale.

Residents within two miles of the project would have a property value guarantee, which requires appraisals before turbine construction and when residents try to sell their properties in the first five years after construction of the wind farm. The developer and property owner would agree on an asking price, based on an appraisal, and the developer would pay the difference between the asking price and sale price.

Other regulations include:

■ The Town Council and Variance and Project Oversight Board must approve change of ownership of the project or the project’s controlling entity.

■ Notification of the project’s pending application to the town is required to be sent to all landowners within two miles of the project’s boundaries.

■ Submission of studies are required on the project’s creation of shadow flicker, visual impact, noise, electromagnetic interference, transportation issues, ice and blade throw, stray voltage and wildlife harm as well as an emergency response plan, current property value analysis, operation and maintenance plan, decommissioning plan, earthquake preparedness manual and cultural, historical and archeological resource plan.

■ Submission of an escrow agreement, proof of liability insurance of $20 million per year and wind speed data from a year prior to construction are required.

■ Turbine and blade height are limited to 400 feet.

■ An annual report from the owner or operator on the operation and maintenance activities are required so that the town can compare the project’s plan and its actual results, and its noise projections and actual noise levels.

The proposed law goes into great detail on how sound measurements should be taken. The council has flexibility on applying fines for lack of compliance with the regulations.

The amendments do not substantially change rules for personal wind towers.

Wind power development critics support the amendments and said the town should not fear the state’s placing turbines against the town’s proposed law under the rejuvenated Article X electricity development law.

“The setbacks are great,” said Patricia A. Booras-Miller of the Environmentally-Concerned Citizens Organization. “They were thinking of Article X, too; there’s a lot of documentation to support their reasons.”

The town feels urgency, too, to pass the law before a new slate of council members is elected in November. The council must act on an environmental review of the law, so the law may not pass at the September meeting.

“We want to go the next step so we can get approved before the end of the year, before our board changes,” Ms. Chatterton said.