BAD AXE – A resident showed the Huron County Board of Commissioners video that he feels demonstrates issues with a wind developer’s sound protocol.
Robert Gaffke of Bloomfield Township has a long-standing complaint against Heritage Sustainable Energy, which built the two Big Turtle Wind Farms in Huron County.
Big Turtle II borders Gaffke’s property, and he has been before both county commissioners and county planners many times in the past 18 months complaining about noise from turbines.
Gaffke would not allow Heritage to contract with Epsilon Associates Inc. to have testing done on his property, as he disputed Epsilon’s objectivity.
He recorded video of the equipment that Epsilon used last May for a sound study on a neighbor’s property. He also provided video that showed turbines shut down and being serviced during the study.
And in another portion of the video, a squeaking noise could be heard that Gaffke said was coming from a turbine in the wind farm. Gaffke said the video was recorded at 10 a.m. May 13, and he stated he was 1,320 feet away from the turbine.
“I hope you can hear (that),” Gaffke said in the recording.
Gaffke also disputed the location of microphones Epsilon had placed for the study.
One site was a neighbor’s property where landscaping equipment was in use. The microphones were shown among vegetation, with one located behind a pile of dirt.
Gaffke said this was proof that Heritage was not following its own sound protocol, which he said included doing sound testing in open areas without vegetation.
After the presentation, Commissioner David G. Peruski asked why the testing had not been done on Gaffke’s property, since he filed the complaint.
Gaffke said he disagreed with the protocol, and would have allowed someone without ties to the wind industry to test on his property.
He also stated that on the windiest days of the sound test, the loudest turbine was shut off, and he reiterated that turbines were being serviced at that time, and were not running.
“To me, that’s unacceptable,” Gaffke said.
Gaffke also took issue with the fact that at the Feb. 7 planning commission meeting where Epsilon presented its sound study data, county Corporate Counsel Stephen Allen said the planners had no jurisdiction over complaints, and that the planners would be out of line if they questioned the study.
Gaffke felt that then-Planner Charles Bumhoffer had legitimate questions that should have been asked. Bumhoffer did not ask his prepared questions, and resigned at the end of that meeting.
Gaffke said new protocols are necessary, and questioned who had approved the site where the sound test was conducted. He also asked who has jurisdiction over the complaints. No one provided an answer.
According to a policy adopted by the board in 2010, the complaint resolution process is as follows:
- The first step is for the developer to investigate and provide a response to the complaint. Heritage complied with this in 2016.
- Next, if the complainant disagrees, they can complain to the building and zoning director, who would then conduct his investigation.
Gaffke sent a letter to Building and Zoning Director Jeff Smith in November regarding the issue he has with Heritage.
Smith told the Tribune he began investigating the issue in January, when he went to Gaffke’s farm and collected sound data alongside Gaffke.
- If the complainant disagrees with the results of the investigation, he or she would then appeal to the Huron County Zoning Board of Appeals. This step has not yet been reached in the Gaffke complaint.
- At any point, the complainant has the right to sue the developer for any alleged ordinance violations. Gaffke has not done so.
County officials, including Allen, were unaware for several months from 2016 to 2017 of Gaffke’s complaint, and where it stood in the complaint process.
Smith said he has called Gaffke twice since the initial collection of sound data in January to schedule additional data gathering, but has not heard back from him.
“The biggest thing I encourage is cooperation … I need to evaluate and collect data to finalize my report,” Smith said.
He noted that he did witness the clunking noise that Gaffke has complained of, and said Heritage is working with turbine manufacturer Gamesa Wind to remedy the issue.
The county is considering amending its complaint resolution process, Smith added.
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