DIXFIELD – The Planning Board held a special workshop Thursday evening with Patriot Renewables project coordinator Tom Carroll to discuss the sound-level limits for the town’s wind energy facility ordinance.
Patriot Renewables LLC of Quincy, Mass., approached Dixfield officials five years ago about constructing wind turbines on Col. 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. Residents defeated it by a 359-390 vote.
Much of the Planning Board’s focus was on the sound limits presented within the defeated ordinance. It stated that 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.
Selectman Dana Whittemore said he hoped the Planning Board and Patriot Renewables project coordinator Tom Carroll could negotiate a sound limit that was above 35 decibels at night, but below 42 decibels.
Before Carroll and the Planning Board began speaking about the wind ordinance, Town Manager Carlo Puiia said that he had an update from the Maine Municipal Association about a petition filed by residents to adopt the DEP’s sound limit standards of 42 decibels during the nighttime and 55 decibels during the daytime.
“At our last meeting, there was some question on whether the town was required to put the petition on the next town warrant, or if they could wait until their annual town meeting in June,” Puiia told the Planning Board. “I spoke with the MMA, and they said that the town could wait until June to put the petition in front of residents.”
Puiia added, “The way the petition was worded, it didn’t refer to any specific statute that says it needs to be held on the next town warrant.”
However, Puiia said that there is now a question on whether the Planning Board or Board of Selectmen can make amendments to the wind ordinance prior to the vote on the petition.
“There’s a yellow light flashing right now, so I’m waiting to see what the MMA says on that topic,” he said.
Planning Board member Lauren Hebert asked Puiia if “the law allows someone to file another petition or give people another question to act on, so the community has two options to choose between.”
Puiia said, “I suspect that the answer is no, because it’s my understanding that you can’t have competing petitions. It’s a yes or no question on both of them, so you could potentially pass two ordinances.”
Later in the meeting, the Planning Board returned to discussing possible sound limits for an amended wind energy facility ordinance.
Hebert said that he believed the Planning Board should bump up the nighttime and daytime sound limits by “two decibels” and “see if that would sit well with the people.”
“The way I look at it, I’m uncomfortable giving any advice on an ordinance that another developer may have to deal with,” Carroll said. “There’s no guarantee that we’ll move ahead with the project, but that doesn’t mean that another developer won’t. I wouldn’t be comfortable putting a number I disagree with on an ordinance that someone else may have to deal with.”
Carroll told the Planning Board that “four years ago, when the state lowered the nighttime decibel limit from 45 to 42 decibels,” they “had cross examination” from the DEP and from anti-wind individuals, “learner testimony, written and oral statements, and all sorts of evidence.
“I’ve seen the process they went through to get from 45 to 42 decibels, but I have no idea where 38 decibels is coming from,” Carroll continued. “I have no idea where 40 decibels is coming from. Taking that into consideration, I would say I’m uncomfortable with anything that’s not the state standards.”
Planning Board member Robin Marshall asked Carroll if he ever said that Patriot Renewables could work with wind turbines running at 35 or 36 decibels.
“A few years ago, when we were talking about sound limits, you mentioned that you could work with Woodstock’s amended wind ordinance,” Marshall said, explaining that their amended wind ordinance has a nighttime decibel limit of 36.
Carroll said that when he agreed that Patriot Renewables could work with Woodstock’s new ordinance, he had “no idea that they had lowered it to 36 decibels.”
“Knowing that, I would say that we could not build wind turbines with those numbers,” Carroll said.
As the meeting came to an end, Hebert said that he needed to “sit on the information” that they received at the meeting, and return to the discussion at their Sept. 17 meeting.
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