Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals is expected to vote Thursday on an appeal directed at one of the two town-owned wind turbines on Blacksmith Shop Road, West Falmouth.
Neil P. Andersen of Blacksmith Shop Road filed the appeal in November, asking the zoning board to overturn Building Commissioner Eladio R. Gore’s ruling that Wind 1 did not present a nuisance by virtue of excessive noise—a ruling issued in response to a complaint by Mr. Andersen.
The board opened its public hearing on the appeal in March but continued it to this week after the initial session ran late, depriving audience members of a chance to speak that evening.
The hearing was almost bumped to next week after Patricia A. Harris, assistant town legal counsel, requested a continuation; Frank K. Duffy Jr., town legal counsel, was absent due to a family emergency.
Ms. Harris said she was not as familiar with the matter as Mr. Duffy, and she asked the board to postpone the hearing to next week to ensure “that the town could be properly represented in this very complicated and complex matter.”
“We have been in an emergency situation in our home for the past three years,” Mr. Andersen countered. “Another week, another minute, another half an hour is terrible to us, so we need something to happen here… I would like a decision.”
Chairman Matthew J. McNamara questioned whether the town would be disadvantaged by the hearing proceeding as scheduled, noting that the board had the option of accepting public input that night and, if necessary, giving town counsel an opportunity to rebut in writing before holding a vote at a future meeting.
That was the course of action the board chose, and Sari D. Budrow, zoning administrator, said the involved parties have until 4:30 PM Tuesday to submit final written comments.
The board will not accept additional testimony when it meets Thursday at 6:30 PM to vote on the appeal.
When Mr. Gore spoke at the board’s first hearing on the appeal in March, he explained that he rejected the initial complaint because Mr. Andersen “did not have enough evidence, scientific, that would tie the issues that he was experiencing to the wind turbine.”
The basis for Mr. Gore’s rejection was data collected by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, which conducted a sound study at Mr. Andersen’s property. The study found that in seven sound samplings out of eight—four taken during the daytime, four at night—the sound generated by the turbine was 40 decibels (dB) or higher, and thus in excess of the 40 dB noise limit in town bylaws.
At 40 dB, the sound from the turbine would be softer than the human voice at a normal speaking volume. The highest sound level recorded by the DEP, 50.5 decibels, is about 10 dB softer than a normal conversational voice.
However, daytime sound levels did not exceed the DEP’s recommended noise threshold for turbines of 10 dB over a location’s ambient sound levels. DEP measurements taken at several other locations near the wastewater facility—Fire Tower Road, Ridgeview Road, Ambleside Drive, and elsewhere on Blacksmith Shop Road—not only failed to record a sound violation based on the DEP standards, but found that the ambient sound levels themselves were in excess of 40 dB. One location recorded an ambient sound level of 52 dB.
Some nighttime readings did exceed that threshold, but Mr. Gore reminded the board that the town no longer runs the turbine at night; its hours of operation are 7 AM to 7 PM.
Board member Kenneth H. Foreman asked Heather B. Harper, assistant town manager, if she felt that the curtailed hours of operation approved by the Falmouth Board of Selectmen “constitutes an admission that the turbines are producing injurious or obnoxious noise.”
“You’d have to ask the elected officials that question. It’s not appropriate for me to answer” on behalf of the selectmen, Ms. Harper said.
Residents who spoke last night confirmed Mr. Gore’s statements regarding the noise levels, but pointed out several nuances that supported their claims that noise characteristics, not simply raw volume, were a key issue.
Kathryn L. Elder of Blacksmith Shop Road compared the volume of the turbines in operation to a running refrigerator, but said the refrigerator produces a steady noise that diminishes as the person hearing the sound moves farther away. The turbines, in comparison, produce modulated sound that remains in excess of the 40 dB threshold on Mr. Anderson’s property, which is about 1,300 feet away from the turbines.
Day O. Mount of Blacksmith Shop Road argued that the DEP’s 10 dB threshold was an obsolete standard for determining a nuisance, first noting that the DEP itself has called the 10 dB-over-ambient level outdated.
Further, he reminded the board that Town Meeting recently approved a new turbine bylaw that set the noise threshold at six dB over ambient background noise, and Todd A. Drummey of Blacksmith Shop Road said the DEP sound study recorded four instances when the noise exceeded the six-dB threshold—those readings in addition to the seven that recorded sound levels exceeding the 10 dB standard.