DIXFIELD – An attorney has advised selectmen that sound limits in the town’s revised Wind Energy Facility Ordinance are “pretty low” compared to others she has reviewed.
The Board of Selectmen read a letter Tuesday evening from attorney Kristen Collins, who was asked to review the document and answer questions from selectmen and residents. Collins, of Kelly and Collins LLC in Belfast, has been working with the selectmen and Planning Board since 2012 to revise the ordinance.
Patriot Renewables LLC of Quincy, Mass., approached Dixfield officials three years ago about constructing wind turbines on the Colonel Holman Mountain ridge.
The town’s original ordinance passed in November 2012 and a revised ordinance was rejected in November 2014 by a vote of 553-567. In February, selectmen voted to put the Planning Board’s original draft on the June 9 ballot.
One of the major concerns of some residents is whether 35 decibels is too low a sound limit to allow wind development in town.
The revised ordinance residents will vote on says no wind energy facility unit or system should generate sound levels exceeding 35 decibels from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., or 45 decibels from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Tom Carroll, project coordinator for Patriot Renewables, said that if residents voted for an ordinance that limited nighttime decibels to 35, it “would not be feasible to build a wind farm in town.”
“The current 35-decibel level certainly appears pretty low,” Collins said in her email. “However, I understand that a typical turbine will generate about 100 (decibels). At a distance of around 550 yards, that sound would be measured at around 35 decibels, which is generally regarded as average ambient noise.”
Collins added, “Having reviewed many wind ordinances, the 35-decibel limit is somewhat on the lower end of the limits typically applied. The Maine model wind energy ordinance, which is generally regarded as pretty lenient, sets the limits for rural areas at 42 decibels at night and 55 decibels during the day, which is not far off from the proposed change in Dixfield.”
One resident asked Collins if it’s considered a conflict of interest if someone on the Board of Selectmen posts negative or degrading comments about wind energy on anti-wind websites.
“There is no conflict of interest unless the selectman at issue actually works for a wind developer or wind opponent, or stands to directly benefit or be harmed financially from the siting of a wind project in town,” Collins wrote. “For instance, if a selectman is negotiating to lease property to the wind developer, he or she may have a conflict of interest.”
She said a selectman “may be biased for or against wind development,” but it doesn’t “prohibit him or her” from voting on an ordinance regarding wind energy or wind development.
“The voters have the ultimate say, so any bias would cease to have an impact,” Collins said.
When another resident asked if a lawsuit could be brought against the town from wind developers as a result of members of the Board of Selectmen being biased, Collins deemed it “unlikely.” She said that “since the ordinance was approved by a majority of voters, any bias on the part of a selectman in placing the ordinance on the ballot would be moot.”
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