Joe McKenzie, 56, continually has ringing in his ears when he is in his own home. His wife, Tammy, 50, feels pressure in her head. And they both have trouble sleeping in their own bed.
The Northampton Township couple may sound like they are sick, but the two are in relatively good health. The problems, they said, stem from noise, particularly from windmills.
Their house is approximately 1,600 feet from the Twin Ridges Wind Farm, which has 68 turbines in Northampton and Southampton townships.
The wind farm became operational in 2012, and the McKenzies said they have been dealing with a multitude of symptoms since. They have spent what Tammy McKenzie estimates as thousands of dollars to try to solve the problem, but, nothing has been fixed.
The couple is even thinking about abandoning their home of nine years, but money to buy another house is tight.
They said they have brokenheartedly accepted their fate, but want to make sure that no one else has to go through what they have.
Tammy McKenzie said since the blades on the turbines begun turning on Christmas Eve 2012, they knew there was a problem.
“From the first spinning of blades we called the company to complain about the noise, hearing it inside our home over the television,” Tammy McKenzie wrote in a letter to the Daily American. “We were told that there was a break-in time frame and they would be noisy and it was asked that we be patient.”
But the noise did not become quieter, she said. In fact, it became worse, especially when ice built up on the turbines.
They started experiencing symptoms similar to motion sickness. In addition to the ringing in the ears and headaches, they began to display symptoms of anxiety and fatigue.
Tammy McKenzie said the sleep deprivation affected her work, sometimes causing her to miss multiple days at work because of health problems.
For two years they have been looking for a solution to the problem. Tammy McKenzie said they don’t want to try to sell their home because of the fear of having another family affected by the sound.
“We have lost the value of our home,” she said. “We are on our own because there is no help for us.”
E-Coustic Solutions owner Rick James, of Okemos, Michigan, has been an acoustical engineer for more than four decades. The McKenzies contacted him earlier in the year to test the sound levels at their home.
James tested for infrasound, sound waves with frequencies below the lower limit of human audibility, or a sound with a frequency lower than 20 hertz.
What James found shocked the McKenzies.
“Based upon my review of the seven days of test data, the notes and logs, and my prior experience and knowledge of wind turbine acoustical characteristics and how people respond to those characteristics, I conclude that the infrasound from the wind turbines near your home is sufficient to exceed the (60-decibel) threshold at which people will consider the home to be unlivable and vacate or sell it on a regular basis,” James wrote in a letter to the McKenzies dated June 2.
He said that far exceeding the 60-decibel limit can cause “adverse health effects.”
“The wind industry is deep in denial that any of these things exist,” James said in a telephone interview with the Daily American.
The wind industry, he added, cites people who aren’t as sensitive and who don’t show any symptoms as proof that infrasound doesn’t exist.
What the sound does, he said, is cause pulsations in nerves that cause people to have distress. It is not noise that you necessarily hear.
“As time goes on it doesn’t get better, it gets worse,” James said.
A spokesman for EverPower Wind Holdings, the company that operates the turbines, said the reported infrasound doesn’t exist there.
“We understand it is really real to people, but it’s just not there,” Mike Speerschneider, EverPower chief permitting and public policy officer, said. “We have been open and willing to work with people that have concerns or questions.”
Speerschneider said his company followed all of the proper regulations when it constructed the turbines.
The Somerset County commissioners approved amendments to the county’s subdivision and land development ordinance that represent the county’s first restrictions aimed specifically at wind turbine and tower development. The amendments include setback clauses that require developers to obtain waivers from adjacent property owners before building turbines or towers within a set distance of those properties. The commissioners decided that a proposed 3,000-foot setback for turbines was too restrictive, and instead settled on a formula that takes into account the structure’s height. Under the new ordinance, the setback clause would apply to any “occupied residence or commercial structure” within a distance of five times the height of the turbine from the turbine’s base to the hub of the rotor. Based on the size of existing wind turbines in Somerset County, setbacks would be between 990 and 1,320 feet. For cell phone towers, setbacks are determined by adding the height of the tower plus 100 feet.
Looking for a solution
For more than two years the McKenzies have been contacting EverPower and local officials looking for an answer to their problem. So far their efforts have not been successful.
Tammy McKenzie attended a Northampton Township supervisors meeting Thursday to again ask for help.
“It’s too late for us,” she said as she addressed the board. “We want to make sure other people are protected from these projects (in the future).”
Eight other residents attended the meeting to show support for her.
Supervisor Mark Keefer suggested possibly getting the county commissioners involved to see if they can rework the ordinance or pass a new one.
Commissioner John Vatavuk said he would be willing to sit down with all of the involved parties and try to work out a solution.
Supervisors Chairman Tim Ackerman said although he takes Tammy McKenzie’s concern seriously, there is only so much they can do.
“We’re just a small township trying to get by with what we have,” Ackerman said.
“We are just a small couple who have lost everything that we have,” Tammy McKenzie replied.
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