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Residents weigh in on wind ordinance

ANTRIM – In the third public hearing held Monday on a proposed large-scale wind ordinance, the Planning Board took feedback from residents on both sides of the issue, with comments focusing on tower height and noise restrictions.

Jesse Lazar, vice-chair of the Planning Board, said there would be no further changes made to the ordinance before voting on March 13. However, should the ordinance pass, amendments could be made at future Town Meetings, and he encouraged residents to continue to give input.

The latest draft of the ordinance, which will be in front of voters, allows for 450 feet of turbine height from the tower base to the highest tip of the blade, a 50-foot decrease from an earlier draft. The sound levels cannot exceed five decibels above the ambient sound levels before construction, with a maximum of 45 decibels during the day and 43 decibels during the night.

Resident Gordon Webber questioned the board on why the height restrictions, which had been set at 500 feet in earlier drafts, was reduced.

Board Member David Dubois explained that the original increase in the height restriction was a compromise by the board. After receiving feedback from residents who thought the height allowance was too generous, the board adjusted the figure downward. “After the last meeting there was much more input from residents,” he explained.

John Soininen, representing Antrim Wind Energy, protested the portion of the ordinance pertaining to noise restrictions. He said the ordinance states that if no sound testing is done before construction, the existing decibel level is assumed to be 25 dBA, which would only allow noise levels of 30 dBA for the turbines.

“Any abutter can deny sound testing, which would automatically register 25 dBA as the sound level pre-construction. That would mean that the maximum allowable noise level is 30 dBA, and that would prevent any size turbine from being constructed. That’s an unreasonable standard,” he said.

Other residents disagreed, saying that the noise restrictions should be tougher.
Resident Shelley Nelkens said that she would not be supporting the ordinance at the polls. “I feel like we should worry less about what [wind facilities] think are prohibitive and worry more about protecting residents,” she said.

Resident Richard Block argued that noise has been linked to physical and psychological stress, which can lead to health problems. “I suggest that the Planning Board err on the side of caution,” he said.

On the opposite side of the issue, Webber said he felt the ordinance was too restrictive, and left too many legal loopholes. “I will not support it,” he said. “I think it’s too restrictive, but my biggest issue is the vagaries.”

Resident Sarah Vanderwende, a candidate for the Planning Board, supported the new ordinance. “I believe the board has created an ordinance that is flexible and workable for both applicants and land owners,” she said.

Lazar said the Planning Board had agreed unanimously on the latest version of the ordinance, and he hoped it would pass this year. Voters rejected an earlier version of a utility wind ordinance at the polls in November.

“We cannot satisfy everyone in town with this ordinance, it’s not possible,” said Planning Board member Charlie Levesque. “We’ve done the best we can.”

The ordinance will be on the ballot for proposed zoning amendments to be voted on March 13 at the Town Hall from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

This article appears in the Feb. 9, 2012, edition of the Ledger-Transcript.