DIXFIELD — Dozens of residents met Wednesday evening in the Dirigo High School community room to discuss the Nov. 4 vote on the amended Wind Energy Facility Ordinance.
Patriot Renewables LLC of Quincy, Mass., approached Dixfield officials three years ago about constructing a 20 megawatt wind turbine project on the Colonel Holman Mountain ridge. The corporation has been conducting research on the ridge, including wind tests, bird studies and environmental impact studies.
The ordinance was approved in 2012, but the Board of Selectmen voted to place it before the Planning Board at the beginning of 2013 for revisions. After a year and a half of revisions and discussions, the Planning Board and Board of Selectmen met in August to discuss final amendments.
Town Manager Carlo Puiia kicked off the meeting Wednesday by going through the 36-page draft and highlighting the areas that were amended.
The section that drew the most feedback from residents was dedicated to sound modeling, sound standards and sound-related enforcement procedures.
Puiia said that originally, the ordinance said no wind energy facility unit or system should generate sound levels that exceed 42 decibels from 8:30 p.m. to 6 a.m., or 52 decibels from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m “anywhere in the town beyond the boundaries of the project parcel and all participating parcels whose owners have waived noise restrictions.”
The amended ordinance said that no wind energy facility unit or system should generate sound levels exceeding 35 decibles from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., or 42 decibels from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Resident Peter Holman presented a chart that highlighted sound levels, from extremely loud to quiet.
“According to the chart, 140 dBA or more is equal to a shotgun blast,” Holman said. “That’s something that can damage your hearing. 110 dBA is similar to a car horn. The next step down is labeled as ‘very loud,’ which you can get from factory noise or a screaming child. Fifty dBA is a moderate level of sound.
“The wind turbines that would be installed in our town would run at 41 dBA,” Holman said. “That’s the same as the refrigerator in your house. Some may call that loud. I don’t really hear mine anymore.”
Selectman Norman Mitchell said he had a study from the World Health Organization that showed the side effects people suffer based on noise levels.
“The study shows that sleep disturbance can occur at 35 dBA,” Mitchell said. “You’re looking at changes in stress, hormone levels, drowsiness and tiredness during the day, impairment in your social interaction and decreased cognitive function. This is not anything from the wind people. This is from the World Health Organization. Anyone is welcome to read this.”
Resident Dan McKay said any wind turbines that were constructed in municipalities have “generated noise complaints to the extent that the developer, with the threat of having to go to court, has coughed up the money to keep these people quiet.”
“There’s 19 in the Mars Hill wind turbine project alone,” McKay said. “The wind farm in Mars Hill is not too dissimilar to the Colonel Holman Ridge. The most important reason for this town to have an ordinance is because of the noise.”
Resident Susan Holmes said she “just didn’t understand the noise argument.”
“My husband and I have ridden our snow machines near the St. Lawrence River, right near Matane, and you can see them all over the hill, right at the city limits,” Holmes said. “We’ve gone there on snow machines. There are over 100 wind towers on that hill. We’ve taken off on our sleds, taken off our helmets, and there’s very little noise. I just don’t understand the noise issue.
“There’s always going to be people who have psychosomatic issues, where they’ll hear anything if they think there’s going to be money,” Holmes added.
Later in the meeting, Puiia said selectmen and the Planning Board also agreed to amend the ordinance’s decommissioning site restoration plan.
“Originally, the decommissioning plan called for the applicant to fund the decommissioning of the project over a seven-year period,” Puiia said. “The selectmen and the Planning Board agreed that it should be amended to ask the applicant to provide 100 percent of the total cost of decommissioning prior to construction.”
Puiia said the amended decommissioning standards would also require that the decommissioning account be reviewed periodically “to make sure it keeps up with inflation.”