FARMINGTON – Selectmen decided this week to pursue making amendments to an ordinance that regulates wind energy projects in town, amid fears the recently adopted rules fall short of protecting residents.
They reacted to complaints by a small group of residents who have argued the local performance standards fail to prohibit harmful amounts of noise and other negative effects caused by wind turbines.
Selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday night to have the town’s code enforcement officer draft amendments, hoping to address their concerns, said Town Manager Richard Davis.
The proposed changes, dealing only with turbine noise and setbacks, will be reviewed by selectmen at a future meeting. They will vote then on whether to send the issue back to voters at a special town meeting, Davis said.
Voters overwhelmingly passed the new ordinance at town meeting last month, but selectmen were asked recently by resident Burt Knapp to revisit the matter.
Knapp, a physician, claims the amount of turbine noise that the ordinance deems acceptable at neighbor’s property lines poses a health hazard, depriving people of sleep and affecting their daily routines.
On Wednesday, Knapp said the noise issue is his biggest concern and has been since he started calling on town officials months ago to adopt stricter regulations. He added that selectmen have further researched his complaints and decided to look into making changes.
Selectman Andrew Hufnagel on Wednesday said he did much of the research to convince the other four selectmen to look into amending the ordinance. He added the vote this week is only to have the code enforcement officer, Steve Kaiser, return with amendment proposals.
Hufnagel was unable to discuss details Wednesday afternoon, saying he would comment on the issue in the coming weeks before selectmen schedule a meeting on the matter.
Selectman Dennis Pike on Wednesday said he initially opposed amending the ordinance. But the new questions raised this week by Hufnagel prompted him to seek more information from industry experts.
“Not being an expert on the matter, I decided to ask for more information before I make a decision,” Pike said.
The recently enacted 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.
Although that 60-decibel level is considered the level of normal conversation, many rural communities have adopted local rules to keep wind turbine noise at much lower levels.
Among the possible amendments discussed this week, Farmington selectmen and several residents suggested adopting stricter standards for the amount of turbine noise allowed at night compared to daytime limits, Davis said.
Farmington Planning Board members behind the ordinance have defended the regulations, saying they adequately protect residents from negative effects of wind turbines.
But Clayton King Jr., chairman of the board, has said in past interviews the rapidly evolving studies about wind turbines’ safety standards have changed in recent months.
King noted the planning board spend more than 18 months working on the ordinance, making its decisions based on the information available at the time. He added the board had always been open to making adjustments as problems or concerns arise.
The board members wanted to pass an ordinance to ensure the community had local control over wind energy projects, which otherwise would only have to follow a handful of state and local guidelines, King said.
In other action, a local business owner has pledged to help pay for the construction of garage at the new police station, according to Davis.
Richard Bjorn, who owns the Kyes Insurance Agency branch in Farmington, has agreed to make the donation, Davis said.
Residents at town meeting last month voted to raise $25,000 to pay for about a third of the expected cost for the project. Bjorn this week pledged to cover the remaining cost, which will depend on the public bidding process where contractors compete to do the work, Davis said.
“He has been a very generous benefactor to the town of Farmington over the years, and we greatly appreciate everything,” Davis said of Bjorn.
He had previously made several donations to make upgrades at the town’s community center, Davis said.
Bjorn, 77, has lived in town for about 40 years and owned the insurance agency’s local branch there for 30 years. He shied away Wednesday from commenting on the donation, just saying, “If you can, you should.”