FAIRHAVEN – Health board member Dr. Barbara Acksen is hoping Fairhaven will join a handful of eastern Massachusetts towns considering enacting a noise ordinance that specifically targets industrial wind turbines.
Currently, industrial wind turbines fall under the same state noise regulation as all other industrial facilities. Under that regulation, a noise source is in violation if it is more than 10 decibels louder than an area’s background noise.
But a regulation being considered by Bourne, Falmouth, Scituate and Kingston would lower that level to six decibels for wind turbines. A draft regulation being considered by three of those towns would also include regulations to account for the “whooshing” nature of turbine sound, as well as regulations for infrasound, or sound that is inaudible to humans.
Peter DeTerra, chairman of Fairhaven’s Board of Health, said Thursday his stance hasn’t changed – that he believes the town should await the results of a state study on the town’s two turbines before making any decisions.
Acksen said that approach is inadequate, adding that “even if the turbines don’t violate state law, people are still being affected.”
“Many people in different communities have found that this 10 decibel level is not appropriate to account for turbine noise,” she said.
The draft regulation being considered by Falmouth, Scituate and Kingston was written by Westboro-based attorney Christopher Senie, who often represents community groups in zoning disputes.
“This is sort of cutting new ground because the fact is that zoning regulations aren’t doing a good enough job with turbines because noise pollution falls under a Board of Health’s jurisdiction,” said Senie, who was introduced to turbines when he was hired by a community group in Falmouth. “That means it falls on the backs of boards that aren’t used to being at the center of controversial land-use disputes. They really need to tackle this if they want to protect people.”
In writing his regulation, Senie consulted acoustician Michael Bahtiarian, who has conducted studies of the Falmouth turbines.
“The state regulations were written to deal with sources that produce a constant sound level,” he said. “Wind turbines produce this fluctuating sound that goes ‘swoosh swoosh’ that your mind can’t factor out because it’s irregular.”
Senie said the three towns considering his regulation are still in the early stages. Bourne, which used a different draft, did submit its regulation to the Department of Environmental Protection for approval but it was rejected by the state agency.
DEP spokesman Edmund Coletta said the Bourne regulation left some questions unanswered and that the town is welcome to resubmit another version of the ordinance. He said the agency is reviewing comments it has received about state noise regulations but that he couldn’t speculate about whether the agency would write a turbine-specific regulation.
“We have been utilizing the current noise policy for a number of years, and we think it is an effective way to measure noise,” he said. “But there are comments we are looking into.”
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