So loud was the roaring and constant “woosh, woosh, woosh” of the Bald Hills Wind Farm turbine blades, after they became operational in 2015, that neighbouring landowner, John Zakula, had to clear out at night, on dozens of occasions, especially during winter, and sleep in his car at the beach.
The late-night excursions, sometimes at 12 midnight or 2.00 in the morning, he said, happened two and three times-a-month in winter between 2015 and 2021, but also extended from April to November depending on weather conditions.
The retired Tarwin Lower farmer and former mechanical engineer was in the dock, via video link, on Thursday, September 9, giving evidence on Day Three of the Supreme Court trial instigated by two of the neighbours of the wind farm, Mr Zakula and Noel Uren, alleging substantial and unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of their land due to the noise coming from the wind farm.
During a clear and easily understood presentation to the court, in answer to questions by the plaintiffs’ barrister, Georgina Costello SC, Mr Zakula explained that while he was aware, when he bought his 50-acre property at Tarwin Lower in 2008, for “around $320,000”, that there was a wind farm to be built on the rising land nearby, he never anticipated any problems.
“Yes, I did hear that, just through the local papers,” Mr Zakula said.
“I didn’t think about it. I knew it was being built at Bald Hills, over there, more than 1km away, and I didn’t think there would be any problem.”
Mr Zakula said he was living in a holiday house at the Promontory Views Estate at the time, and simply went ahead with his retirement plan for establishing a small, self-sustaining organic farm, and building an energy efficient home.
The property already had a permit for a house when he bought it, but he needed to submit a farm plan to the South Gippsland Shire Council when he applied for an extension of time to the home-building permit.
The self-designed home was built three years later, before construction started on the 52-turbine facility.
Mr Zakula said he first noticed construction on the site, when he saw major earthmoving works taking place in late 2012 but he was frankly surprised by the size of the turbine towers when they were ultimately erected.
“I was a little surprised at the height of these things. You can be told about them but it’s hard to scale them only when you see them up it’s a bit of a surprise.”
But Mr Zakula said the impact, as soon as they started spinning in March 2015, was immediate.
“I heard the roaring sound and the noise being produced by these wind turbines. They were producing a large roar,” he said.
“After the start up, it was coming into the winter period that they were quite loud. They were louder at night.”
Asked by counsel for the plaintiffs, Ms Costello, to describe the sound, he used a railway analogy.
“It was just roaring. It sounded like the arrival of a train, but it never stops arriving. There’s a constant roar,” he said.
“There’s a regular wooshing noise,” he said, making the sound for the court.
“It comes from the combined effect of the whole thing and how they interact with each other.
“It was like an orchestra coming over the horizon… it was just everywhere.
“It’s at its loudest when it’s coolest. You try to go to sleep, but you can hear this woo, woo, woo. You try to roll on one side, then the other in the hope that it will be better, in the end you just want to run away. It’s extremely difficult to try to get to sleep.”
Asked what he had done in the winters of 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 to try to reduce the impact, Mr Zakula said the sound often went on for days, and unable to sleep, he said he felt “seasick or car sick” at times… waking up at 12 midnight or 2am feeling that he simply had to get out of the house.
“I’d get in my car and stay down at the Walkerville Beach for the night.”
After being taken through his testimony by Ms Costello, Mr Zakula faced cross-examination by Albert Dinelli for the defence.
He quizzed Mr Zakula on his evidence and asked why he decided to go ahead and build a house on the land, when he knew the wind farm was coming.
“You previously described it as a mistake to build the house in an interview with A Current Affair?” Mr Dinelli said.
“I don’t recall,” Mr Zakula said.
Mr Dinelli was also at pains to find out from Mr Zakula why he hadn’t responded to offers from the operators of the wind farm, including in letters from associate director of the Infrastructure Capital Group Limited, James Crofton Arthur, “to improve the acoustic amenity of his property”.
Mr Zakula said he didn’t recall receiving such offers as late as March this year.
He put it to Mr Zakula that he simply didn’t want to talk to the wind farm operators about improving his situation.
The case continues on Friday this week with more testimony from neighbours of the Bald Hills Wind Farm, and is expected to run through until September 21, 2021.