The Supreme Court trial over whether a Victorian wind farm was a nuisance to two its neighbours has heard one of the men often resorted to sleeping in his car by the beach to escape the noise of the nearby turbines.
The evidence from retired engineer John Zakula came on the fourth day of the trial, in which he and co-plaintiff Noel Uren are seeking damages from the Bald Hills wind farm.
They are claiming damages for lost income and decreased property value they say was caused by the “roaring” noise coming from the farm.
Mr Zakula bought a rural-zoned 20-hectare property in 2008 near Tarwin Lower with the knowledge a wind farm would soon be built.
He built an off-grid house just over a kilometre from where the nearest turbine was to be built.
The farm, approved in 2004, started construction in 2011 and the blades began turning in March 2015.
While the plaintiffs claim the subsequent operation of the wind turbines caused substantial and unreasonable interference with the value and use of their properties, the wind farm’s defence has argued both men have engaged in a “passionate”, years-long campaign to stop the farm.
‘They were just roaring’
Poor internet connection marred much of Mr Zakula’s testimony as he answered questions from a neighbour’s home near Tarwin Lower.
“They started operating in March 2015 and within two to three months I was writing letters of complaints [to the operators] as it was causing me sleep disturbance,” Mr Zakula said.
“They were just roaring – it sounded like the arrival of a train and it never stops arriving.”
He told the court that two to three times a month during winter he sleeps in his car at a nearby beach when the noise becomes too much.
“I get in my car and drive down to the Walkerville Beach and remain there for the rest of the evening,” Mr Zakula said.
Under cross-examination by defence barrister Albert Dinelli, Mr Zakula told the court four separate legal proceedings had added to his stress levels, including a drink-driving case that ended with the suspension of his driver’s licence.
He told the court the legal battles “may” have contributed to his inability to sleep.
When the roaring began, Mr Zakula said he called a complaint phone line.
When that did not yield the results he wanted, he started putting his complaints in writing, the court heard.
Barristers tendered five complaint letters Mr Zakula had written to the wind farm operators between 2016 and 2019, which recounted each time he had lost sleep due to the wind farm.
“I wrote notes last weekend when my sleep was disturbed, I have been writing them for the last five years, basically daily,” Mr Zakula told the court.
He said he had also met with the farm commissioner, protested at a local wind farm open day, and wrote to the Victorian Environment Protection Authority.
The court heard Mr Zakula parked his trailer at the wind farm’s community open day and used a megaphone to tell passers-by about the operation’s alleged non-compliance and its impact on his sleep.
Mr Zakula agreed that he was a “fierce opponent of the wind farm”.
“I am passionate about making people aware of the wind farm’s non-compliance,” he told the court.
‘Low energy living’
Mr Dinelli drew the court’s attention to two letters from the director of the wind farm, sent in December 2020 and March 2021, which offered Mr Zakula suggestions to improve the acoustic insulation of his home, as well as an offer to subsidise the cost.
While Mr Zakula could not recall whether he saw those letters, he told the court the options proposed would constitute an unreasonable “lifestyle change”.
One of the options proffered was the installation of an air conditioner so he could close his windows to block out wind farm sound during the summer.
But Mr Zakula said that would contravene his “philosophy of low energy living”, and would require him to connect his off-grid home to mains electricity.
Mr Uren will give evidence to the court, presided over by Justice Melinda Richards, tomorrow.
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