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Clayton wants wind turbine noise limited at 45 dBA

CLAYTON – The Town Council proposed a zoning amendment Wednesday that would force commercial wind turbines to be five decibels quieter than allowed under its existing wind law.

“We want to amend it from 50 dBA to 45 dBA based on the World Health Organization guidelines for community noise. That would be the noise limit at participating residences and nonparticipating property lines,” Town Supervisor Justin A. Taylor said.

The new standard was developed by the five-member Clayton Town Council after a “noise test” Sunday, where Charles E. Ebbing, a retired acoustic engineer, demonstrated how turbines would sound in a number of settings from different distances.

While the council’s newly proposed noise standard is more restrictive than its original law adopted in 2007, it is not as limiting to wind farm developers as the turbine noise cap of five decibels above ambient sound levels recommended by the town’s Wind Committee.

Councilman Christopher D. Matthews, who spearheaded the recent effort to further limit turbine noise levels along with Councilman Robert W. Cantwell III, said the sound demonstration was held at his family log cabin on Grindstone Island on a calm and quiet day, with the ambient, or background, noise staying under 32 decibels.

“You just can’t hear it. There’s no chance you’re going to hear 45 decibels from 15 feet away,” Councilman Lance L. Peterson said, referring to his experience Sunday.

Although every Town Council member seemed to agree that 45 decibels was a “defendable” noise limit for Clayton, town resident Cindy L. Grant argued Wednesday that the new standards were arbitrary and do not take into consideration low-frequency turbine noise, which cannot be reproduced through speakers and could cause health issues.

“You cannot base your decisions on how a noise sounds to you five board members. That will not hold up in a court of law,” she said.

Ms. Grant said the same applies to the recently adopted property value guarantee law, which requires wind companies to reimburse wind district residents if they are unable to sell their properties at assessed value after a year.

“The recently passed property value guarantee will not work and will not protect us in Clayton,” she said. “Other lawyers have looked at property value guarantees and they have all said that they will not work and the wind developers can defeat them in court.”

The town board soon will ask its attorney to draft a new zoning law based on the proposed amendments and review it at its next regular board meeting Sept. 28 at the Paynter Senior Center, 914 Strawberry Lane.

Clayton is likely to hold a public hearing during the following Town Council meeting Oct. 12.