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Salem conducts sound testing for possible turbine

The Salem Energy Planning Office has begun an additional round of acoustic testing on Winter Island Road in Salem and Naugus Head in Marblehead, part of what Salem city officials describe as efforts to address community concerns about the possibility of a wind turbine being constructed on Winter Island.

“The sound testing measures the background noises in the residential areas nearest to the proposed site,” said Paul Marquis, Salem’s Energy Manager. “The testing is happening because of criticism we received from some of the stakeholders who were concerned about the acoustic impact of a turbine.”

The testing costs approximately $14,000, and is being paid for with an extension of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Council grant that paid for the original feasibility study that named Winter Island as the preferred spot for a turbine.

Testing commenced at the end of April. It consists of a series of antennas, approximately 20 feet high, that measure the background decibels of a given area.

“Directly at the base of a wind turbine, the decibel level of the spinning blades is 55 decibels,” Marquis said. “For comparison, normal conversation happens around 60 decibels. As you go back away from the turbine, the acoustic impact lessens – at different speeds depending on things like trees and structures.”

The nearest residential structure to the proposed Winter Island Turbine site is Salem’s Plummer Home for Boys. Marquis said it was too early in the testing process to release decibel figures, but early results indicate that the noise in the background might be higher than originally thought. This would mean that the turbine, if built, would make less of a sound impact.

“For projects like this, state guidelines stipulate that any new energy project can’t make an impact of more than 10 additional decibels on a residential area,” Marquis said. “Our initial acoustic testing indicated that we would be in compliance with that, and these new tests look to confirm that.”

In a letter from Salem Wind, a group that opposes the turbine being placed on Winter Island, the group said that it was having private acoustic consultants monitor the testing, which Marquis confirmed.

“In Salem and Marblehead there are over 1,000 homes located within a mile of Winter Island,” said Salem Wind president Ed Moriarty in the letter. “As a grassroots effort, Salem Wind can only succeed in fighting the installation of the wind turbine with additional funding by neighbors and concerned citizens. Our goal is to stop the progress of putting this turbine on Winter Island Park.”

In addition to wind and shadow concerns from citizen advocacy groups, another wrinkle is the questionable legal status of constructing a turbine on a public park. Salem’s legal department is researching whether such a prospect is feasible.

For a turbine to go forward, it would need to be approved by both the legal and parks and recreation departments, and funding the turbine’s construction would have to be approved by the City Council. Robert McCarthy, the city councilor for Ward 1, where Winter Island is located, said that no such measures are currently before the City Council or any of its subcommittees.

“We are basically at step one with this,” McCarthy said. “There are still many, many unanswered questions before any measures can be taken on coming to a final decision.”

At the only official public meeting on the proposal last August, McCarthy said he was unable to attend. Hence, he is not taking an official position on the issue.

“I have a stack of emails from supporters and opponents,” McCarthy said. “Both sides raise issues that it’s important to get clear answers to in open meetings, and that process hasn’t begun yet.”

Pat Gozemba is a member of the city’s Renewable Energy Task Force and a co-chair of the Salem Alliance for the Environment (SAFE). She said that SAFE planned to continue efforts to educate the public about the benefits of clean wind energy.

“We support the proposal to build a wind turbine at Winter Island, and we support efforts for similar projects in adjacent communities,” Gozemba said. “I live on the Salem Willows, and I am very excited about this potential project.”