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Town officials weigh options in wake of turbine noise violations

FAIRHAVEN – Following Tuesday’s announcement that Fairhaven’s two wind turbines violated state noise regulations at times during months of testing, some town officials are hoping the industrial-sized machines can be turned off at night.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Charlie Murphy had called for a meeting in April between the Board of Health and selectmen to look into turning the turbines off between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. On Wednesday, he said the study’s findings have only strengthened his resolve to “give our residents a good night’s sleep.”

“Before, people didn’t believe the turbines were that loud at night, but now the study shows it,” he said.

The sound study, conducted by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, is not yet complete. Interim findings released Tuesday show that noise from the turbines exceeded state regulations in five of the 24 periods during which the DEP conducted testing.

Those violations occurred at three locations south of the turbines when winds were coming from the north. While the DEP or selectmen or the Board of Health could take steps to shut the turbines down, the DEP recommended Tuesday that the two boards sit down to talk about their options with turbine developers and come to a solution that does not require legal action. That meeting has been scheduled for June 10 at noon.

Shutting down the turbines all night and every night may not be necessary to remedy the violations, according to turbine developer Sumul Shah.

He said Wednesday he would like time to try different mechanical changes to the turbines. One option he mentioned would be changing the angle at which the turbine blades hit the wind, which would slow the turbine as it spins and, he said, decrease noise coming from it.

“If that’s quieter but not enough, we’ll go back to square one,” he said. “But we’d like to go through a process where we can test these different options and then verify it has the desired impact.”

If that option doesn’t work, Shah said he would prefer to only shut down the turbines when the wind is coming from certain directions at certain speeds rather than all night long.

On Tuesday, it was suggested that such a process could take until the winter. That’s not soon enough for Selectman Geoffrey Haworth, who said he’s open to different options for solving the problem but wants Shah to “come to the table with proposals to solve this problem” on June 10.

Kenneth Pottel, an opponent of the town’s two turbines, said the turbines should be shut down at night and that other remedies have “too much room for error.”

“They just need to be shut down,” he said.

He did say he was hopeful that the study’s findings could give weight to residents’ noise complaints about the turbines but added he was worried that town officials would make decisions based on “money and how much they make on the different options.”

Financing was a concern of Board of Health Chairman Peter DeTerra, who said Wednesday he was waiting to come to a conclusion about possible remedies until he could speak to town counsel about Fairhaven’s options.

“We need to look at what the costs of these actions are, too,” he said.