BAD AXE – Should every wind turbine in the county be tested for its sound?
County officials mulled the answer at a special meeting Wednesday night in Huron County Circuit Court.
In the courtroom, commissioners, sound consultants and developers took to padded seats in the jury box. Planning Chair Clark Brock and Building and Zoning Director Jeff Smith took spots on either side of the judge’s seat. Planners set up at counsel tables, across from the jury box. At the podium, in the center of it all, was special guest Kenric Van Wyk of Acoustics By Design. About 20 people viewed the three-and-a-half hour meeting from wooden benches.
Last week, commissioners agreed to spend up to $7,500 for Van Wyk, an engineer and president of Grand Rapids-based Acoustics By Design, to visit Bad Axe and explain the firm’s draft of new sound regulations as it relates to turbines, which were considered fraught with ambiguity.
Van Wyk began by reading aloud the ordinance, nearly verbatim, while pausing to put it in layman’s terms. He warned it might be a tedious process.
Most of the focus boiled down to how many turbines developers must test for sound levels.
For example, using a 10:1 ratio would mean 10 in a 100-turbine project would be tested.
“We don’t feel that that adequately protects the public,” Van Wyk said. “These (wind turbines) are going to be here for a long time. … A 1:1 ratio best protects them.”
Planner David Peruski said he would support a 1:1 ratio – or testing every turbine.
“We owe it to citizens to have every turbine tested,” Peruski said.
Richard Lampeter, a consultant at Massachusetts-based Epsilon Associates Inc., which DTE Energy has commissioned for sound studies, said that’s not necessary, as the tests are simply a sampling. And testing every turbine would be costly, difficult to monitor and could take months to finish, even in ideal settings, he said.
Another sticky subject is infrasound or low-frequency sounds, which aren’t within the normal range of human hearing. Some studies show effects from the infrasound emitted from wind turbines contribute to nausea, headache and sleep disturbance, while others show no risk to human health.
“I am begging you to consider low frequency or infrasound,” Meade Township resident Rita Parsch said during public comment. “There is peer-reviewed science. There is a way to measure it. … I’m human. It’s personally affecting me.”
Van Wyk advised against adding infrasound to the ordinance because there are no standards set in the industry.
“It’s a hot topic,” Van Wyk said. “We did not ignore it.”
Brock agreed. He said he didn’t want to add something unenforceable to the ordinance, as regulations are currently not recognized and later could be changed.
Officials also questioned where measurements for sound tests should be taken – at a resident’s property line or near their house.
Commissioner Sami Khoury said if taken at a property line, it would eliminate someone’s home being unsellable if noise levels are too high on the back portion of a 40-acre spread.
Commissioner Rich Swartzendruber said the ordinance should protect a person’s home, rather than “parts of the property they’re not using.” He said if taken from a property line, it would mean a neighbor couldn’t develop their property or lease land for a turbine due to sound levels.
Planning Vice Chair Bernie Creguer said they’re singling out turbines in regulating sound, while places like Tower Automotive or Huron Castings are not regulated. It was noted that these are on industrial, non-county-zoned land; the turbines planners regulate are on agricultural, county-zoned land.
“We’re treating wind turbines different than all other uses of property,” said Steve Allen, the county’s attorney.
From there, developer-hired consultants and Van Wyk sought to refine details in the ordinance, while county officials showed concern as to how well it protects residents.
With Brock as the moderator, dialogue shifted to consultants highlighting minutiae in specific sections and debating industry standards with Van Wyk, picking apart the details and often agreeing to disagree.
Brock lauded Van Wyk’s explanation of the ordinance and rationale used. He conceded, however, that some questions might remain unanswered. Regardless, Brock said planners must do what’s best for citizens, but make rulings legitimate and accurate for developers, too.
With the late October end date for the moratorium on new wind projects in their peripherals, planners requested more information from Van Wyk for their Oct. 7 meeting.
Building and Zoning Director Jeff Smith, of the draft wind energy ordinance before them, previously said the newest version is “one of the best ones out there.”
“It will have an impact on projects, yet still be reasonable and protect everyone in the county,” Smith said in July.
“We want responsible development. And consistency.”
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