A class-action lawsuit is being planned against a local council, the Victorian government and a wind farm operator after an independent review accepted resident complaints that noise from a Gippsland wind farm was causing them harm.
A council-ordered report on the Bald Hills wind farm found there was a nuisance under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act.
This was despite the wind farm being compliant with state planning laws. Investigators said they could hear wind turbines in some residents’ homes and accepted they could sometimes be heard over the television and that residents were suffering sleep deprivation and other symptoms.
The report is a milestone on a years-long journey for residents at Bald Hills involving botched investigations, doctored reports, court interventions and heavy-handed planning decisions.
The finding could have dramatic implications for the ongoing development of the wind industry, which claims its turbines do not disturb residents.
Affected resident Don Fairbrother said the situation should never have got to this point. “There was a lot of concern about the suitability of the site and the height of the turbines was increased without community consultation,” he said. “The project has had a troubled history and we are finally being listened to.
“Our concerns about sleep deprivation have finally been recognised as a health and welfare issue.”
Noise logs by Mr Fairbrother document “whining, roaring noise” causing sleep deprivation and headaches.
The independent monitor, James C. Smith and Associates, was engaged in March by the South Gippsland Shire Council lawyers to investigate. The report said Mr Fairbrother appeared to have “frequent sleep interruptions from a noise described as ‘grumbling noise and a sensation’ and frequent associated headaches”.
In conclusion, the report said there had been a consistency in complaints. “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 nightly and early morning hours,” the report said.
One first-hand experience where wind farm noise intruded on conversation during a site visit was seen as “detrimental to the personal comfort and enjoyment of the residential environment”.
“After consideration of the completed noise logs by individual complainants and subsequent discussions with some of these individuals, it appears there is 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 report said.
The report is significant because the wind farm had been approved as compliant under state noise regulations and was being operated in a low-noise mode when investigations were under way.
The residents’ lawyer, Dominica Tannock, said she was meeting affected residents to consider their options. “A QC has been briefed and a junior counsel briefed with a possible class action against the shire, the operator, the minister and the state Environment Department,” Ms Tannock said.
A case is currently before the Supreme Court.
The Bald Hills wind farm was developed by Mitsui and Co and sold to Australian-based Infrastructure Capital Group in February last year. South Gippsland Council said it would be seeking comments on the report from both the wind farm operator and the complainants over the next few weeks.
Council chief executive Tim Tamlin said: “Without in any way suggesting that council is avoiding its responsibility, I would like to point out that this finding demonstrates the apparent disconnect between the Planning and Environment Act and the Public Health and Wellbeing Act,” he said. “I would suggest this is something the Victorian government needs to resolve.”