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Orleans passes stricter zoning amendment on wind power

LAFARGEVILLE – The Orleans Town Council passed a zoning law amendment on Thursday night to beef up its restrictions on wind turbines.

Compared to the town’s original zoning law on wind turbines, the new amendment decreases the allowed height of turbines from 500 feet to 400 feet. It establishes relative noise standards, as opposed to the absolute 50 decibels in the old law.

The recommendation from the town’s wind committee and Planning Board had been property-line setbacks of 3,000 feet when the total height allowed was 500 feet.

The council talked about a relative standard.

“A formula per 100 feet is the safest way to do it,” Councilman Peter Wilson said.

But Councilman Peter R. Davis said he thought 2,250 feet would be a reasonable distance for 400-foot turbines, based on 550 feet for every 100 feet in height. Eventually, the council settled on the number.

The Town Council took out a provision that would require a developer to get town approval for a change of ownership of the project or the project’s controlling entity.

“You can’t tell someone not to sell their property or lease their property,” attorney James A. Burrows said.

The council also deleted a property value guarantee, which would have required the developer to pay property owners the difference between an appraisal and a sale price, on Mr. Burrows’ advice.

The bulk of the recommendations remained intact. 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 5 decibels below the standard, the allowed noise level would be 5 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 5 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.

Other regulations include:

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

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