FAIRHAVEN – The Board of Health approved a revised mitigation plan Jan. 6 that addresses noise violations by wind turbines on town-owned land. The vote was 2-1 with Barbara Acksen strongly opposed.
Health board member Peter DeTerra, who served on a mitigation subcommittee, said the revised plan includes changes made by the state Department of Environmental Protection. He said the DEP will continue to monitor the testing for a year and that the modification plan is not “etched in stone.”
“The DEP is going to do extensive testing,” he said. “We’re going to be testing for another year. We’ll reevaluate in another year.”
Health board Chairman Jeannine Lopes said the developer has been cooperating. She stressed frequently that they “have to start somewhere.” Ms. Lopes said, “DEP is always going to be on the back burner testing these things.”
A copy of the updated plan was not immediately made available to the press. It was provided the next day by health agent Patricia Fowle.
The plan was first presented to selectmen and the Board of Health this past fall. The boards formed a mitigation committee and have been requesting revisions since then.
State officials from the Department of Environmental Protection and Mass Clean Energy Center sit on this committee, along with Mr. DeTerra, Selectman Charles Murphy and the developer, Fairhaven Wind LLC.
Under state law, the turbines can’t add more than 10 decibels to existing noise levels. The town’s turbines, especially the south turbine, have exceeded those levels under certain weather conditions during tests.
The mitigation plan is intended to bring the turbines into compliance. The plan is called, “Offer of Settlement and Compromise… Fairhaven Wind’s Amended Mitigation Plan.”
The modification plan calls for shutting the south turbine down from 12 to 4 a.m. during certain wind conditions and directions from Nov. 15 to April 30 when the exceedances have been recorded. The two options tested by the DEP included feathering the blades, or adjusting the angle, as well as shutting one turbine down.
Fairhaven Wind says if there are still violations of noise limits in future tests, it will recommend an alternate plan. The developer said both turbines would be shut down during the conditions related to the violations until the problem is resolved.
Fairhaven Wind now has to use the National Weather Service to forecast weather conditions and makes changes off site through a computer. The company said it will develop software to make these modifications automatically.
Ms. Acksen complained that the software hasn’t been developed yet.
Fairhaven Wind also said it will contract with a qualified acoustical firm during the first year to test that the mitigation plan is working. But Ms. Acksen said the town needs an independent acoustical engineer to verify test data provided by the developer.
In response, Ms. Lopes said the town doesn’t have the money to spend on a consultant.
Gauging the turbines’ noise levels to see if they exceed state noise limits has taken a great deal of time, with the DEP’s Laurel Carlson going out at late hours under specified wind conditions with equipment she acknowledged wasn’t ideal.
Ms. Acksen commented on the inadequate equipment the DEP has in her objections, but Mr. DeTerra said the DEP is getting new equipment and will use it to test the turbines when it is available.
One factor that seemed to influence the positive vote Monday was a decline in the number of complaints since the developer implemented modifications. Ms. Lopes said, “We have received fewer complaints the last two months,” and that 95 percent came from the same household.
“The truth is what it is,” Ms. Lopes said. She said the board had taken sufficient steps. “We’ve been listening to the people.”
Ms. Fowle said they’ve received 542 complaints from 61 houses with more than half coming from “just three households.”
But Ms. Acksen said they could face lawsuits. She also said their meeting should have been more widely publicized.
The meeting was held in a small Board of Health office and was sparsely attended. The choice of such a small room for a meeting on the wind turbines has caused strong objections in the past.
Ms. Lopes said, however, that they had posted the meeting as required under the open meeting law.
On Tuesday, Executive Secretary Jeffrey Osuch said he doesn’t think the plan has to go back to selectmen for approval. He said the changes do not affect the contract, which comes under the Select Board.
Last week, Selectman Robert Espindola said the selectmen should have responded to a petition from 19-20 citizens asking to be on the agenda to discuss the turbines. He said they’d received the petition in October.
At that meeting, the other two selectmen said the petitioners should go before the health board with health issues and before selectmen with concerns about the contract.
In response, Mr. Espindola said the petitioners had concerns about both.
Selectmen have met in executive session to discuss the mitigation plan in recent months, citing state law that allows the board to meet in private if it is discussing a contract.
Louise Barteau of Windwise said Tuesday, “This mitigation process has taken place behind closed doors. The Fairhaven citizens who have lodged over 624 unanswered formal complaints with the Board of Health continue to be excluded from meaningful participation in the process.”
She added, “It is not right for the town to accept any mitigation plan that does not allow a full night’s sleep for everyone.”
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