State data does not support all town actions on Fairhaven turbines

FAIRHAVEN — Town officials’ response to state noise testing of Fairhaven’s two wind turbines is inconsistent with the data collected, according to a Standard-Times review of the data. The Board of Selectmen has put the turbine developers on 30 days’ notice for breach of contract using sound sampling data that was discarded from the Department of Environmental Protection’s study. Meanwhile, the Board of Health has ordered 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shutdowns of the turbines, despite the fact that state testing only found the turbines in violation of state law between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m.

Data collection

The selectmen’s action centers on a part of the contract between the town and turbine developer Fairhaven Wind LLC stipulating that turbine noise may not exceed 60 decibels at the nearest property line.

On June 10, Selectman Geoffrey Haworth told the developers that the state’s Sept. 26 testing on Mill Road proved they had violated that portion of the contract. The board also voted to put the developers “on notice,” a would-be first step toward terminating the contract.

In fact, DEP data collected from Mill Road on Sept. 26 shows only three readings that exceed 60 decibels, each of which was discarded because it could not be attributed to the turbines.

DEP spokesman Edmund Coletta explained in an email to The Standard-Times that “most of the sound levels in the 60-decibel range on Mill Street are attributed to passing cars.”

The highest reading not discarded from the study was 48 decibels.

“We have validated this data and do not plan to re-sample,” Coletta wrote.

Haworth said Thursday he was skeptical of the idea that those three readings did not come from the turbines. “I’ve heard that game but I’m not confident that that’s the situation,” he said.

Whether the turbines violated the 60-decibel standard in the contract could be irrelevant. According to the contract, the turbines would be exempt from the 60-decibel requirement if they are farther than 600 feet from the nearest property line.

Property lines?

Asked by The Standard-Times, neither the town assessor, planner, building inspector nor selectmen could say how far the turbines are from the nearest property line, which appears to be Nasketucket Cemetery.

None could provide The Standard-Times with maps of the turbines’ locations in relation to property lines.

Building Inspector Wayne Fostin and Town Planner Bill Roth each suggested The Standard-Times use Google Earth software to estimate the distance between the cemetery and turbines by comparing the program’s satellite images to assessor maps.

Haworth said that even without the 60-decibel contract violations, selectmen could put Fairhaven Wind on notice for violating state noise regulations.

“Either way, it’s a breach of contract,” he said.

While selectmen negotiate the contract with Fairhaven Wind, the Board of Health has also taken actions to curtail the turbines beyond what is supported by the state’s testing.

The DEP’s sound sample found five violations of state noise regulation. Under that law, the turbines cannot be more than 10 decibels louder than ambient noise at a given location.

Each of the five violations was recorded between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m. By contrast, the Board of Health order mandates the turbines be shut down for 12 hours between 7 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Not just the data

Board of Health member Barbara Acksen acknowledged that the 12-hour shutdown is not solely based on the DEP data.

She said the board also reviewed the more than 400 health complaints lodged by roughly 50 households and found that sleep disruption was often listed.

“People’s children are having trouble sleeping and that constitutes a health risk,” she said. “The overnight shutdown is to accommodate the kids.”

DEP spokesman Coletta said the Board of Health has the jurisdiction to enforce the state regulation however it sees fit.

Town Counsel Thomas Crotty said the Board of Health has “the authority to make a judgment call on what they think may be injurious to public health,” but added that “a judge at some point may look it over and say ‘No, we think you’re wrong on that.'”

‘Overly zealous’

Turbine developer Gordon Deane said he found the shutdown “overly zealous” because the state “only found a few violations during the quietest hours only during certain wind directions and wind speeds.”

“To shut us down for half a day every day regardless of weather or wind speeds, that is not defensible based on the data,” he said.

Deane said Fairhaven Wind is willing to negotiate a compromise with the town “if we can find a way to reduce the decibel levels and operate 24/7.”

“We are more than willing to do that,” he said.

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