The investigation commissioned by the South Gippsland Shire Council, at a cost of $33,600, into Noise Complaint Notifications by residents living near the Bald Hills Wind Farm is complete.
And two and a half years after they first made their grievances known, the report has found their complaints were fully justified.
Described by the shire as “a highly experienced independent public health consultant”, at his appointment in February this year, James C. Smith and Associates has found that “there is a nuisance caused by wind farm noise, in that, the noise is audible frequently within individual residences and this noise is adversely impacting on the personal comfort and wellbeing of individuals”.
The conclusion has been welcomed by the lawyer representing seven of the complainants, Dominica Tannock of DST Legal of Abbotsford as “a very, very significant finding”.
But she is alarmed by the shire’s decision to put the findings to the operator of the wind farm, the Infrastructure Capital Group (ICG), first instead of simply accepting the report and the process they put in place and taking the appropriate action.
In fact, she says, by the admissions of their CEO Tim Tamlin at the Supreme Court on March 20 this year, the shire council isn’t qualified to do anything but accept the report’s findings.
“The council should be concerned by these findings and they need to make a decision. They want to get the operators’ comments but they’ve been getting complaints from the affected property owners for three years that the noise emissions are making them sick.
“They have an obligation under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act to investigate the nuisance and to take action in a timely manner.
“But despite being in possession of the clear findings of an independent expert, they’re not prepared to make a decision.
“The evidence is plain and yet they are afraid of making a decision because it’s a first in Australia and because they are scared of upsetting the operator.
“But what about their own ratepayers? These are ordinary people with legitimate health concerns and all the council can think about is getting feedback from the operator.”
In a letter to the shire’s lawyers, Maddocks, Ms Tannock has objected to giving the operator 14 days to respond as “extraordinarily and procedurally unfair”.
The report by Mr Smith, an expert in public health follows a botched attempt by the shire to investigate the complaints itself between May and November 2016, after which the shire produced a finding of “no nuisance” in January 2017 before telling the affected property owners that the case was closed in April 2017. But it wasn’t closed and the complainants took Supreme Court action to get a proper investigation. The matter is due to go back to the Supreme Court on November 26, two days after the next state election.
The investigation by James C. Smith and Associates has found:
“That there is a consistency with the information contained in the completed log books and with subsequent discussions held with Mr Zakula, Mr and Mrs Fairbrother, Mr and Mrs Jelbart, and Mr Uren about their individual experiences with wind farm noise during that period.
“Without exception there are allegations that the wind farm noise is audible inside their individual homes and, as a result, there is sleep disruption during the night and early morning hours. There are also allegations that the wind farm noise is disruptive to day-time domestic and work activities.
“A particular difficulty in undertaking the investigation was to predict noise patterns based on weather forecasts and the experience of residents. It became apparent that noise patterns were unpredictable and highly changeable. However, on 24th and 25th July 2018, wind farm noise was clearly audible in the Zakula and Jelbart dwellings, with windows and doors shut, between the hours of 6.50pm and 9.40pm and 7.40pm and 8.40pm respectively.
“In the case of the Jelbart dwelling the noise level increased to a point where it intruded into conversation between investigators and Mr and Mrs Jelbart thus, corroborating that wind farm noise was clearly audible in dwellings and, at times, intrusive.
“It seems likely then that such noise could be heard over a television, or radio as had been recorded in some noise logs, and reported in discussions with Mr and Mrs Jelbart, and Mr Uren.
It is noted that a noise mitigation strategy was in place at the wind farm at the time. This strategy was described by the wind farm operator as ‘… comprising a select number of wind turbines operating at reduced sound modes for a limited range of wind speeds and directions’.
“It is clear from the investigation that noise from the wind farm is audible within residences although there are noise monitoring reports stating that there is compliance by the wind farm with permit conditions and the New Zealand Standard 1998, and with a noise mitigation strategy in place at the wind farm.
“The noise was clearly audible in Mr Zakula’s dwelling at night time twice and in the Jelbart residence at night time twice and this is held to be unreasonable in both cases.
“The experience at the Jelbart residence on 24th and 25th July 2018 whereby wind farm noise intruded on conversation within the residence at night time is seen to be detrimental to personal comfort and the enjoyment of the residential environment by Mr and Mrs Jelbart.
“After consideration of the completed noise logs by individual complainants and subsequent discussions with some of these individuals it appears there is a nuisance caused by wind farm noise, in that, the noise is audible frequently within individual residences and this noise is adversely impacting on the personal comfort and wellbeing of individuals.”
Despite offering the operators of the Bald Hill Wind Farm’s 52 turbines 14 days to respond, the CEO Mr Tamlin said the matter was set to go to council for decision on Wednesday, September 26.
All councillors, DST Legal and the operators of the wind farm have been provided with copies of the 25-page report and attachments, which include contemporaneous comments by the wind farm neighbours including “woken up at 4am”, “woken up at 2am roaring sound”, “woken up at 4am roaring/rolling noise” and “woken up at 3.30am could get back to sleep, got up at 7am could still hear noise through radio”.
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