FARMINGTON – After a good amount of public hearing discussion Tuesday night, selectmen were split, 3-2, in favor of having voters at town meeting decide the wind energy performance standards draft proposed to be added to the town’s zoning ordinance.
Concerns from the residents attending the hearing and two of the five selectmen of the ordinance draft included the exemption from permit regulation when wind generated-power is used to pump water or operate equipment, that the allowable sound pressure level was set too high, that there wasn’t consideration built in for neighbors who might view the windmills and that windmills aren’t allowed in the village residential and village business district, which is essentially the area downtown.
Currently, Farmington has yet to pass a windmill addition to the zoning ordinance, as many neighboring towns have. In October, a wind power company from Massachusetts presented to the Farmington Planning Board a proposal to build four windmills off Bailey Hill Road as a commercial project. Those in favor of getting windmill regulation on the books said Tuesday night the draft may not be perfect but with a project already presented it’s time to move on it.
The proposed ordinance addition targets permit regulation for commercial and residential wind power systems, but not the industrial-sized wind farms that feature the largest wind turbines at 410 feet tall, from base to blade tip. Code Enforcement Officer Steve Kaiser said he doesn’t believe those projects are feasible in Farmington, due to the terrain and lack of enough wind to merit such a project.
The ordinance sets in place a permitting procedure for wind projects, regulating setbacks, sound emissions, making provisions for radio signal disturbance and lighting and shadow flicker effect. As the ordinance currently reads, turbines would be required to not exceed a sound pressure level of 60 decibels, with the reading taken from the nearest property line. An exemption to that level is given for short periods of utility outages and/or severe weather events.
The ordinance also mandates the construction of a six-foot fence to enclose the base of tower. An exemption was added that no fence is required if the base, up to a height of 10 feet, can’t be reached to climb. Non-operative turbines could be required to be removed if power hasn’t been produced in 12 consecutive months, unless the CEO or planning board grants a waiver. A projection of a project’s potential for shadow flicker, caused by the blades casting shadows on the ground or other background to create rapid shifts in light intensity, would also be required.
Fees of $50, for a residential turbine, and $500, for each turbine in a commercial project, would be required for application submission. The ordinance exempts wind power systems used to pump water or air or operate equipment are exempt from all requirements for a residential wind energy system.
Commercial wind systems would be permitted in the zoning designations of “Farm and Forest” and “General Purpose”. Residential use allows windmills everywhere except village business and village residential areas. Residential windmill installation is subject to CEO approval and all commercial windmill projects need planning board approval.
Resident Burt Knapp argued against the noise level set at up to 60 dB (decibels).
“The ordinance is too weak and doesn’t protect me as a citizen,” Knapp said. He added, “we live in a rural area that’s quiet at night. I don’t want to hear a windmill and I don’t want to get hit by a windmill blade.” He advised the level should be closer to 35 dB.
Planning board member, Tom Eastler said the concept of noise can be confusing. “Noise is in the ear of the beholder,” he said. A 40 mph wind blowing through a beech forest is loud. As he addressed the group, he was talking at about 85 decibels, he said, an appropriate level at the crowded gathering. “A backup beeper can be very annoying but it depends on where you are standing,” he said.
Kaiser said 60 dB was chosen “because it’s the level we speak at” and “we chose a number we thought was reasonable.”
One Main Street resident who lives in the area zoned as village residential said he measured the street traffic passing by his house at 90 dB and wondered why a windmill wouldn’t be permitted downtown.
Kaiser said typically the low wind velocity downtown didn’t necessarily warrant having the view of a windmill in the historic district. The one windmill at a residence on Main Street would be exempt from the ordinance because it was already installed a few years ago.
Resident Brian Demshar, a resident of Osborne Road, has big concerns of what the Bailey Hill Road project would do to his view.
“I’d like it (the proposed ordinance) to consider the view as it does noise,” he said, adding, “I’d like to see a study done at my house and how it would effect it.”
Selectman Drew Hufnagel said his initial concern of the earlier drafts presented still had not been addressed. He said the exemption for equipment and pumps utilizing wind power creates a loophole through which a permit would not be needed. “Why have this,” he said holding up the draft ordinance copy. He voted against putting it on the town meeting warrant because that loophole needed to be closed, he said. Selectman Ryan Morgan said he wanted to see abutters having more say in windmill installation, particularly when it comes to visual impact.
Dennis Pike countered with letting voters decide the issue at town meeting. The draft would need a straight up or down vote and can’t be substantially altered at town meeting, which is set for 7 p.m. Monday, March 19 at the Community Center. Selectmen Chair Steve Bunker and Jessica Berry agreed the draft should go to the voters for their input.
“Let’s let the community have their say,” Berry said.
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