More than 60 concerned Mangilao residents are speaking out against a University of Guam project they contend could become a neighborhood nuisance: wind turbines.
But the neighbors, who are worried about the noise from the turbines, could have a tough fight ahead. Officials said there are no noise regulations on island.
The University of Guam plans on placing two wind turbines next to its House 32, an environmentally friendly, retrofitted house that serves as office space for UOG’s Center for Island Sustainability.
The wind turbine project would prove that the wind can be harnessed to produce energy on Guam, said Antonio Endaya, an energy technician at the Center for Island Sustainability.
“We want to know if wind turbines would really be suitable for Guam in a small scale,” he said.
But neighbors aren’t happy.
Just 300 feet away, across a fence and row of palm trees, Philip and Janet McCormick are concerned about the noisy whir of the turbines, one of which will rise 100 feet into the air, and the other 70 feet.
Endaya said the noise generated by the 100-foot wind turbine would, under normal conditions, be about 52 decibels. For a resident 200 feet away, he compared the sound to having a radio on in your house at a low volume, or some similar noise.
“It’s like the humming sound from an air conditioning unit,” he said.
But even that isn’t tolerable, residents argue.
“The kind of noise pollution that occurs… is going to be extreme,” said Janet McCormick. She added, “We read about people abandoning their homes because of the noise pollution.”
Another nearby resident, Peter Avilla, said he didn’t welcome the potential headache.
“That’s why we enjoy living out here,” he said. “It’s peaceful, it’s quiet.”
Will the noise really be a problem?
“From my perspective, no,” Endaya said. Noise diminishes with distance, and would be canceled out by normal household activities like turning on the television or using the air conditioner.
But Janet McCormick said that in her home, which is gated in, the family often leaves the doors and windows open.
“To imagine having such noise pollution for the rest of our lives is unbearable,” she said.
The McCormicks, Avilla, and several other residents, including a UOG employee, gathered at the McCormick house last Friday to discuss the problem.
Avilla said he had gathered more than 60 signatures for a petition to the Department of Land Management.
The two turbines have already been purchased, using federal funds, Endaya said.
UOG must get a height permit from the land management department before it can erect the turbines. However, as far as he knows, there is no permit needed for the noise, Endaya said.
There are no provisions in the zoning law for noise, said Frank Taitano, planner at the Department of Land Management.
The Guam Environmental Protection Agency also did not find any regulations on the books regarding noise pollution, said Tammy Anderson Taft, the agency spokeswoman.
Several states do have noise regulations though, she said.
Sen. Rory Respicio said the only regulations he’s aware of are regarding mufflers for cars. Respicio said that he’s heard complaints from residents about noise – like chickens and roosters in residential areas, for example – but there is no law, and he doesn’t think the Legislature should move quickly to create one.
Because UOG is proposing its project in a residential zone, the protesters may have standing within existing laws for their complaint, he said.
Another concern for residents is potential health effects, said Philip McCormick.
Some people claim headaches, dizziness, palpitations, and other symptoms, as a result of living near wind turbines or wind farms, according to an article from The Associated Press.
A recent Massachusetts report by an appointed panel of experts who reviewed scientific evidence found no serious health risks associated with living near turbines, the AP said.
However, some Massachusetts residents and advocacy groups disputed the report, the AP said. The report did recommend that the state adopt noise limit guidelines, and said that wind turbine noise could cause annoyance or sleep disruption.
UOG and the Department of Land Management held a public hearing on the wind turbine project at the Mangilao mayor’s office in early June, which Avilla said wasn’t helpful. On June 28 the Guam Land Use Commission will have a meeting to discuss an application for the height variance.
Philip McCormick is no stranger to fighting for his residential rights. In the 1990s, when plans were revealed to build a bible college and apartments near his home, he brought his case all the way to the legislature, which stopped the development, he said.
While McCormick said he’s in favor of sustainable energy, he thinks UOG is not going about the project correctly.
“We’re not against all this,” he said. “They’re just putting it in the wrong place.”
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