DIXFIELD – The Planning Board and the Board of Selectmen met Thursday evening at the Ludden Memorial Library to review the Planning Board’s original recommendations for a wind energy facility ordinance and additional amendments made by the board.
Dixfield residents originally approved an ordinance in November 2012 to regulate wind development. At the beginning of 2013, selectmen voted to have the Planning Board strengthen the ordinance.
The Planning Board brought its recommendations to selectmen, who made revisions and put in on the November 2014 ballot. The article called for repealing the original ordinance and adopting the amended version. Voters rejected the revised law by a vote of 553-567.
The board subsequently voted 4-1 to take the Planning Board’s original draft and made two amendments. The latest version will go to voters on the June 10 ballot.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Scott Belskis said he requested a workshop with the Planning Board so board members could explain to the selectmen how they reached some of their recommendations.
“We had made some changes, and they did not get voted through,” Belskis said. “We wanted to make sure we get it right this time around.”
A majority of the workshop centered around an amendment that placed a low-frequency sound limit of 50 decibels post-construction and without contribution from other ambient sounds for properties a mile or more away from state highways or other major roads and 55 decibels for properties closer than a mile from such roads.
Belskis said that the amendment was looking to limit infrasound, or low-frequency sound that was felt, but not heard.
“If you’re going to place this in an ordinance, how would you measure something like infrasound?” Planning Board member Richard Pickett asked Belskis.
Planning Board member Robin Marshall pointed out that the town of Woodstock included an appendix in their wind ordinance that addressed infrasound and the methods involved with measuring it.
“I remember when we were first making recommendations for this ordinance; that was the area we were most uncomfortable and unfamiliar with,” Marshall said.
Selectman Hart Daley said that the infrasound amendments found in wind ordinances was derived from scientific studies held by different organizations and physicists that cite infrasound as a legitimate issue that a percentage of the population deals with.
“Basically, these studies state that audible sounds are sounds that cause annoyance, or sounds that disturb you while you’re trying to relax at home,” Daley said. “Low-frequency sound is actually a felt sound. It’s below the level of normal hearing for most people, but there is 10 percent of the population, primarily the elderly, that are susceptible to this sound. It actually causes health problems, like vertigo, nausea and migraines.”
As an example, Daley compared to the discomfort some people feel with low-frequency sound to the feeling people get when “driving at 50 or 60 miles per hour with their back window down a couple inches.”
“I task you to drive from Dixfield to Auburn like that,” Daley said. “You can’t. It’s nauseating. It’s not that it’s so loud that you can’t handle it, but it creates a miserable feeling inside of you. There are specific people have that experience with low-frequency sound.”
Daley said that the towns of Woodstock and Freedom have included language in their ordinances addressing low-frequency sound.
Planning Board Chairman Tom Child said that when he spoke with people who voted “no” at the Nov. 4 ballot, there were “two things they were concerned about: the setback limits and the low-frequency sound.”
“That’s the only problem I have with this,” Child said. “The people already voted down an ordinance that had the language about infrasound in it. I’m thinking about whether or not the ordinance would pass if we did it again, even with all the amendments we’re making. I’m just concerned we’ll be in the same boat if this gets put in the ordinance again.”
“My concern is that if we have information available to us, based on scientific research, and it’s written into other ordinances as protective language against health issues, I feel that I couldn’t vote for it in good conscience,” Daley said. “If the rest of the selectmen agreed to vote to remove it, I’d still vote against it.
“I don’t want to be sitting at home, after I’m off the select board, and having people ask why I didn’t do everything I could to protect them from this issue,” Daley said. “I just can’t do that.”
Marshall suggested that the board find a scientist that can explain the issue of low-frequency sound to people who may not understand it.
“I can tell you right now, I know a physicist from North Carolina who will come up here and explain it for us,” Daley said. “He’ll do it on his own dime, if you can believe it.”
Other amendments to the Planning Board’s draft of the wind energy facility ordinance discussed at Thursday evening’s workshop included the following:
• Adding a section that requires all wind turbines to be setback a horizontal distance equivalent to 150 percent of the turbine’s height from project boundaries, occupied buildings, public and private rights-of-way and overhead utility lines. Residents would not be able to waive this condition.
• Amending the decommissioning plan to require that decommissioning costs are paid 100 percent upfront by a wind developer.
• Requiring a wind developer to deposit a sum of $4,000 per wind turbine into a non-interest-bearing escrow account after receiving an approved permit.
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