The special exception hearing for the proposed wind turbine farm in Penn Forest Township continued Thursday evening with the opposition putting on two witnesses.
Iberdrola Renewables is asking the township to grant the special exception to build 37 wind turbines on the property it leases from the Bethlehem Water Authority. Last week the attorneys for the residents put on a witness who addressed the potential environmental impacts of the project and a witness who lives close to a wind turbine project in Somerset County.
This week the first witness was a real estate appraiser. Don Paul Shearer was offered as an expert in real estate appraisal and the diminution of value that occurs due to different types of industrial development.
Shearer was involved in appraising property in the wake of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Middletown and also after the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coastline of Alaska and has developed a “damaged goods” theory for real estate appraisals.
“Some number of buyers would look at 37 wind turbines and would perceive the area as damaged goods,” Shearer said.
Shearer testified that Carbon County was in a declining market from 2009 through 2014, but that since 2014 the market has rebounded. But he said the wind turbines will cause real estate value on some of the properties within 2 miles of a wind turbine to decrease in value as much as 40 percent.
Shearer said that with “damaged goods” there are two impacts, one is decrease in value and the other is increase in time to sale.
“Some people will buy at any price,” he said. “The average decrease will be between 25 and 35 percent.”
When asked by Iberdrola’s attorney Debra Shulski if there were a possibility that a wind turbine could increase the value of a home, Shearer replied, “I believe that if you are talking about an individual wind turbine, 15 to 20 feet in the backyard of a home, yes that might increase the property value. But not these monstrosities.”
Noise control engineer Richard James also testified before the board Thursday night. James, who suffered from a medical condition brought on by a virus that affected his heart is not permitted to travel, so he testified by speaker phone from his home in Lansing, Michigan.
Over Shulski’s objections, James was accepted as an expert witness in acoustics and the effect that noise has on people and communities. Shulski’s objections were that James is not a medical doctor.
James concluded that Atlantic Wind LLC failed to demonstrate that the project would comply with Penn Forest Township regulations limiting noise to a maximum of 45 decibels. He also said that the Penn Forest wind project, as proposed, has a high probability of creating risks to the public’s health and welfare.
James based his assessment of the project on the one-page report submitted by Iberdrola’s noise engineer, Mark Bastasch.
Bastasch’s report concluded that the project would meet the 45 decibel requirements of the ordinance. James testified that Bastasch’s report “was not responsive to the ‘not to exceed’ requirement of the ordinance.”
James said the major flaws were that Bastasch’s numbers were based on a “long-term average,” which failed to take into consideration the tolerances. James also questioned the use of the accuracy of the model used by Bastasch.
When James corrected Bastasch’s model for the tolerances, the 45 decibel contour line moves directly into the center of the homes located to the north of the line of turbines.
“The report itself is one of the most deficient reports I have ever reviewed,” James said of Bastasch’s report. “The noise to the north will cause an effect on the health of those people living to the north.”
James testified that infra and low frequency sound could cause sleep disturbance; headache; visceral vibratory vestibular disturbance; dizziness, vertigo, unsteadiness; tinnitus; ear pressure or pain; external auditory canal sensation; memory and concentration deficits; irritability, anger; and fatigue or loss of motivation.
James also testified that based on recent studies done in Canada and Poland, setbacks of 1.5 miles are more conducive to protecting human health. The Penn Forest ordinance requires setbacks of three times the height of the turbine, which in this case would be 1,575 feet. The applicant is proposing a greater setback than required by the ordinance.
On cross-examination James agreed that Bastasch used the accepted standard model for his report, but also clarified that it is common knowledge that the model underpredicts by 6 decibels under the most optimum conditions.
Shulski will continue her cross-examination of James when the hearing resumes at 6 p.m. Aug. 25 at Penn Forest Volunteer Fire Company No. 1.
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