FARMINGTON – Selectmen will decide tonight whether they should ask voters to amend a recently adopted ordinance that regulates wind energy projects in town.
They were prompted to readdress the issue after some residents complained the local performance standards fail to protect them from negative effects of wind turbines. Voters overwhelmingly passed the ordinance at town meeting last month.
Resident Burt Knapp has been the most outspoken advocate for adjusting the standards, calling on town officials to adopt stricter regulations.
He recently submitted a letter asking selectmen to bring the ordinance back to voters to adopt amendments at a special town meeting, according to Town Manager Richard Davis.
Selectmen will consider his request at their regular meeting at 6:30 tonight in the town office. There is an ordinance clause that allows selectmen by a majority vote to ask residents to consider adopting amendments, Davis said.
Knapp, a physician, told selectmen his biggest concern is the amount of turbine noise that the ordinance deems acceptable at neighbors’ property lines.
“I think it’s good that the town did pass an ordinance, but it doesn’t fit the bill to properly protect the health and safety of residents,” he said Monday.
Selectman Andrew Hufnagel on Monday said he is aware of the issues raised by Knapp and remains undecided on whether an amendment is necessary. He noted that town officials behind the new ordinance have defended the regulations, while staying open to possibly making changes if problems arise.
“It seems to me we’re really not going to know where we sit until a project comes to Farmington,” he said.
Knapp countered Monday that it would be too late to make an amendment once a wind energy project application is submitted. A project’s permit will be regulated by the rules in place at that time, he said.
Hufnagel would not disclose how he plans to vote, saying he will listen to Knapp and make a decision based on the discussion tonight.
Selectman Dennis Pike on Monday said he will probably oppose the request to amend the ordinance, unless Knapp has new evidence beyond what he presented last month.
“I was very satisfied with the ordinance passed last month, but I will keep an open mind about the issue,” Pike said.
Before the ordinance was passed, Knapp made a lengthy presentation at Town Meeting about his concerns and failed to convince voters to defeat the ordinance.
The other three selectmen did not return calls Monday.
The new local performance standards added rules for turbine noise, setbacks and other wind-energy issues to the town’s zoning ordinance. It allows 60 decibels of turbine noise at a neighbors’ property line, which is higher than the local ordinance standards enacted by many other communities.
The 60-decibel level is considered the level of normal conversation and often accepted as the standard in many noise ordinance debates. For instance, Augusta recently accepted it as the level at which car dealers’ loudspeakers could be heard at the border of their property.
Knapp, however, has argued a rural community such as Farmington should have stricter guidelines for noise ordinances, especially for rules tied to wind turbines. He noted Phillips, another slightly more rural community in Franklin County, adopted a 30-decibel level in its version of a wind energy ordinance.
Farmington Planning Board member Tom Eastler has argued that Phillips’ rule on turbine noise is meant to prevent wind energy projects entirely, rather than regulating them.
Eastler is a geology professor at University of Maine at Farmington and has been the most outspoken supporter of the town’s ordinance, which he helped write.