DIXFIELD – A public hearing on the fourth version of the Wind Energy Facility Ordinance elicited strong arguments from both sides Thursday night.
The Board of Selectmen listened to concerns about noise, potential health problems and property values, and the benefits of lower property taxes and higher income for the town.
The ordinance will go to voters in June.
It was written after Patriot Renewables of Quincy, Mass., approached town officials in October 2010 about constructing 13 turbines on leased land on Colonel Holman Ridge. It passed in November 2012, but zoning restrictions in it were unenforceable. In November 2014, an amended version was rejected. In June 2015, the Planning Board’s original draft was also rejected.
In August 2015, selectmen accepted a citizen petition to adopt the sound standards of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection – including a limit of 42 decibels at night and 55 decibels during the day – for the ordinance.
In January, the board unanimously voted to include the DEP sound levels in the ordinance, but not 27 pages of DEP standards that Board of Selectmen Chairman Hart Daley said were not applicable to the town.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Planning Board member Lauren Hebert said the board voted not to recommend passage of the ordinance.
“It’s not the ugly that I object to,” Hebert said, referring to the wind turbines. “That’s a little too subjective. I’m going to keep it objective.”
He said there “may or may not be health risks associated with infrasound, including sleep disturbance or sleep apnea.”
Infrasound, sometimes referred to as low-frequency sound, is lower in frequency than 20 hertz, or cycles per second, the “normal” limit of human hearing, according to online sources.
Hebert also argued that townspeople face a “loss of financial security” with turbine construction.
“A lot of people’s retirement plans are tied up in their home,” he said, and the value of their homes would decrease with turbines.
He said the DEP sound levels are way too high and the “numbers that residents defeated in June” were not unrealistic.
The June 2015 draft 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.
“I recommend that we find some compromise between the two sets of numbers,” Hebert said.
Resident Peter Holman said he spoke with Steve Brown, chairman of the Carthage Board of Selectmen, who said they hadn’t received any complaints about wind turbines there.
“They lowered their (property tax) mill rate by 3 (dollars per $1,000 of assessed value) after the wind turbines were installed, and could’ve lowered it more, but they wanted to do it steadily rather than all at once,” Holman said.
Resident Sue Holmes said she wanted to see the board remove any language in the ordinance referring to infrasound.
“Can I ask why you decided to include that in the ordinance?” Holmes asked Daley.
Daley said in wind companies’ easements, “they write and refer to infrasound. On top of that, there are multiple wind ordinances throughout the state that have infrasound language in there. We’ve already removed some of the infrasound language, at the request of you and others who are in favor of wind, and left the minimal reference.”
“If we extract every bit of infrasound language, you open yourself up to litigation if someone comes forward and says that they’re suffering health issues due to infrasound,” Daley said. “If they come forward, and knew that we could’ve done something about it, we’re doing a disservice to them, and to those who live closest to the turbines.”
Resident Pat Garbarini said the issue of wind development has become a “dividing factor” and “it shouldn’t be.”
“I’d invite anybody to step foot into my backyard,” Garbarini said. “You can see the flicker and the flashing light from the Carthage wind turbines.”
“We’re all neighbors here,” she said. “If there was something that was going in your backyard that you didn’t want, we would support you with that. I would hope you’d do the same for us.”
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