PENDLETON – An Eastern Oregon wind farm won’t have to curb its noise after a county commission decided not to enforce state noise requirements.
The county commission, called the Morrow County Court, voted 2-1 that although noise from the Willow Creek wind project exceeds state standards at a few homes, the violations did not warrant enforcement action.
“There might be some violations,” said Commissioner Ken Grieb, “but we don’t think they’re significant enough to take action.”
Morrow County granted the 48-turbine Willow Creek project a permit in 2005. The East Oregonian reports outraged neighbors began to complain about the noise from the project soon after.
“I’m flabbergasted,” said Jim McCandlish, a lawyer for three of the neighbors, after the vote. “The county court has an obligation to protect the health and welfare of its citizens.”
McCandlish said his clients’ constitutional right to due process was being denied, and said the neighbors intend to appeal the decision to Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality wrote and used to enforce the state’s industrial noise control regulations. The laws still are on the books, but the department terminated its noise control program in 1991 because of budget cuts, leaving enforcement up to local agencies.
Morrow County adopted the state’s noise control rules and asks wind projects to comply as part of the site certification process.
Project developer Invenergy acknowledges the project violates noise standards, but insists the violations are minimal and infrequent. Kerrie Standlee, an acoustic expert hired by the wind farm’s neighbors, disagrees and said Invenergy is understating the problem.
Standlee said the wind farm consistently broke the noise rule at precisely the time when Invenergy’s expert decided not to use the study data, when wind speeds exceeded 9 meters per second.
Standlee said the wind project broke the noise rule by more decibels, and more frequently, than Invenergy claimed.
The Morrow County Court only accepted testimony from the Invenergy expert.
The vote was 2-1, but none of the commissioners sided with the neighbors – County Judge Terry Tallman voted against the motion, but only because he was against the vote itself.
“We don’t have the funds to force compliance,” Talman said. “The state of Oregon says it doesn’t have to do it, because it doesn’t have the funds. Why are we being forced to live by a higher standard than the state of Oregon?”
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