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Port Hope landowner battling big energy over turbine noise

BAD AXE – A Port Hope man, county planners and wind energy officials are working on a solution to a noise complaint regarding wind turbines.

Robert Gaffke, who owns property near the Big Turtle II project, addressed the Huron County Planning Commission last week regarding a noise complaint he has filed against Heritage Sustainable Energy of Traverse City.

He said noise from a turbine more than 3,000 feet from his property is causing problems.

“It sounds like a guy’s in there with an eight-pound sledge pounding on it, every revolution,” Gaffke said.

To address the complaint, officials need to decide the protocol by which the sound will be measured, Huron County Building and Zoning Director Jeff Smith told the Tribune.

Gaffke said Big Turtle officials have told him that something likely was lodged in the blades.

He said he has had multiple conversations with Rick Wilson, vice president of operations at Heritage.

“Each time, he’s approached me about signing a lease offer as a solution to noise, I guess,” Gaffke said. “I think that’s kind of odd.”

“He didn’t seem to have any solutions to the problem of the noise, and basically his defense is they’re in compliance with the county ordinances, and they’ve done nothing wrong.”

Big Turtle II is governed under the county’s 2010 wind ordinance, Smith said.

Changes were made to the ordinance in 2015.

But it’s up to the planning commission to set the criteria on measuring the sound in determining a violation.

The commission may decide to use the noise restrictions from the 2015 ordinance, Smith told the Tribune.

Heritage project manager Xio Cordoba told the commission that the company has engaged Epsilon Associates to establish sound protocols for the site to start a required study.

“We’re required to prepare a compliance report within a year of operation. We’ve done that for phase one. We are going to do it for phase two as well.”

“We would bring it to the planning commission for your input and just to make sure it fits with what you’re expecting,” Cordoba said.

Computerized sound modeling has shown that the noise is not loud enough to be in violation, both planning and Heritage officials said.

“We feel very comfortable that we are in complete compliance at this location,” Cordoba said. “The closest turbine is over 3,000 feet away.

“So even if there is a margin of error in the modeling, this would be well within that. That being said, that gives us a lot of comfort, perhaps it doesn’t to you (Gaffke).”

Gaffke called the attempts to convince him to sign a lease a bribe, and read the definition of “bribe” to the commission, which included “that which seduces or lures.”

“Money does that to people,” Gaffke said. “Money seduces and allures and will corrupt your view and change your judgment. That is what Heritage Energy has been using with me since my complaint has been filed with Jeff Smith at the courthouse.”

Cordoba said the sooner the study, the better.

“Mr. Gaffke has indicated very clearly that he wants (us) to shut down – or take down the turbines, and those are not reasonable options at this point,” Cordoba said. “But a compliance study that can demonstrate noise levels, we think is feasible.”

Chairman Clark Brock noted that as part of the commission’s complaint-resolution process, it’s up to Heritage to prove that they are in compliance.

“I believe that when a complaint is filed, the company is obligated to prove that they’re in compliance. Sound modeling doesn’t prove they’re in compliance. The company stating that they’re in compliance does not prove they’re in compliance. They would need to have proof that they’re in compliance. If they have prove that they’re in compliance, then it becomes an issue outside of zoning.”

Gaffke said that he would seek litigation against Heritage, “If that’s the route we have to take.”

“Why do I have to battle billion-dollar wind energy companies? I’ve got work to do. I’ve go things to do and this is a horrible position to put a citizen in. I really don’t appreciate it.”

“I didn’t give them permission to broadcast all these noises and effects onto my property. I didn’t ask for this. I’m a nonparticipating landowner. But yet I’m participating in the effects of these wind turbines. And it’s unacceptable.”

Gaffke added that he is considering hiring a sound expert to assess the situation.

Brock said the commission would be willing to consider that information if the person were board certified.