Bylaw in the Works to Regulate Turbine Noise

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By: Elise R. Hugus
Published: 07/27/10

A group of residents who say a municipal wind turbine at the wastewater treatment facility on Blacksmith Shop Road is causing them to experience serious health side effects are taking the law into their own hands.

At last night’s Falmouth Board of Health meeting, the group’s attorney, Christopher G. Senie of Westborough, announced his clients’ mission to create a noise bylaw for turbines in residential areas.

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Since Falmouth erected the first municipally-owned turbine in the state this spring, it has met with opposition from abutters.

“My clients are realistic. These turbines are here to stay,” Mr. Senie said.

“Our goal is to obtain relief at target times, but leave enough room for the turbines to generate energy that will save the town money.”

Representing 14 people who live in the vicinity of Blacksmith Shop Road, Mr. Senie pointed out that another turbine is due to be installed at the wastewater treatment plant, and another at nearby Falmouth Technology Park is about to go online, putting his clients in the crosshairs of “amplitude modulation.”

This is an audible sound that carries up to 2,000 feet, he said, made by turbine blades as they swing downward once per second.

“I’m not talking about the low-frequency or ‘infrasound’ that we’ve been hearing about. I’m talking about noises we can hear,” Mr. Senie said.

Though the town has commissioned a study to examine the residents’ complaints, the group has hired a noise consultant of its own.

With the information from these two “joint studies,” Mr. Senie said the group would propose a draft regulation, to be enforced by the board of health, limiting the amount of noise that can be made by a wind turbine in order to avoid public health effects.

Noting that the town has been “very gracious” in shutting down the turbine when wind speeds reach 22 miles per hour, Mr. Senie said that arrangement has not been formalized, nor are there automatic controls on the turbine to turn it off in high wind conditions.

Blacksmith Shop Road "Ground Zero"

Of the dozen residents who attended the hearing, some were not represented by Mr. Senie, and took the opportunity to voice their grievances before the board.

Neil P. Andersen of Blacksmith Shop Road said that the noise was so bad, he filed a noise complaint with Falmouth police last Tuesday. He and his wife, Elizabeth L. Andersen, both suffer from headaches, and for them, relief “cannot come fast enough.”

“We live at ground zero,” Mr. Andersen said.

Barry A. Funfar of Ridgeview Drive said that he has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and doctors told him that he will have to move because of the additional stress caused by the noise from the turbine.

“There’s just no way I can adjust to the sound,” he said.

Mr. Senie said the group he represents is already working on a draft of the regulation and plans to hold public hearings in October in preparation for Town Meeting in November.

Chairman James A. Vieira noted that proposed bylaws must be submitted by September in order to be considered at Town Meeting, and suggested that next April might be a more realistic goal. He added that the results of the two noise studies will be presented by Assistant Town Manager Heather B. Harper to selectmen in two weeks’ time.

Due to an agreement with Ms. Harper, Mr. Senie said his clients would not provide testimony to the board of health last night, but promised to return in the future with a draft of their proposed bylaw.

“We ask the board to look at this draft as a public health issue, not a zoning issue,” Mr. Senie said.
 

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