Maine continues to choose wind over families

On March 27, 2009, residents of Mars Hill living within 3600 feet of First Wind's wind facility filed a civil complaint in Maine's Superior Court seeking relief from the "significant harm" caused by First Wind and others by the construction and operation of the site. Medical professionals recognize the health problems related to the turbines at Mars Hill are valid.

The past two and one-half years have been a trying and difficult time for the families of Mars Hill and their decision to file the suit was not an easy one. But it is also clear to Windaction.org that the State of Maine has washed its hands of Mars Hill, placing its pursuit of wind energy development ahead of the health, welfare, and safety of its residents. And the State's continuing down this path in Roxbury, Maine.

Here's the history: Shortly before the Mars Hill wind project went online in March 2007, problems of intrusive sound levels were reported despite repeated assurances by developer, First Wind, and town officials that there would be no noise. Andrew Fisk of the Bureau of Land & Water Quality at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (ME-DEP), the agency which approved the facility, responded by requiring First Wind to conduct sound surveys during four seasons of operation to determine whether the project was in compliance with its permit. The permit allows the project to produce nighttime noise levels of 50 decibels at sensitive receptors near the homes. Resource Systems Engineering (RSE), who designed and conducted the pre-construction noise modeling study for First Wind was also engaged to conduct the subsequent monitoring studies.

When RES delivered its first sound survey report in June 2007, the residents, and others, raised questions related to the protocols used. ME-DEP hired Warren Brown of EnRad Consulting to peer-review and validate the survey work. Mr. Brown identified problems with the methodology employed by RSE but determined the findings to date were still substantially in compliance with the permit conditions.

RSE implemented some adjustments and the last two surveys were conducted in winter and spring 2008. It was not until December 5, 2008 that Warren Brown issued his final report to the State; the families received their copy of Brown's report on December 17, 2008 one day prior to a face-to-face meeting scheduled between the Mars Hill residents, First Wind representatives and Andrew Fisk to discuss Brown's findings. Other attendees at the meeting included Richard James of E-Coustic Solutions , an acoustics engineer engaged by the families to help sort through the noise issues, and Lisa Linowes of Windaction.org.

Despite having only one day to review Brown's findings, the families were well aware that doubts about the project's compliance remained. Even in his vaguely worded report, it was apparent Brown still had concerns:

"It is the opinion of the reviewer that this 4th assessment of the project demonstrates compliance at nearly all bordering protected locations, except the protected location adjacent MP-8, as established in the Control of Noise rules and the variance given in Department Order L-21635-26-A-N/L-21365-TG-B-N, dated June 1, 2004. ...In instances where operation levels approach or exceed regulatory limits testing methodologies have not been sufficiently refined to adequately isolate operation sound levels."

And Rick James raised the point that RSE's sampling of turbine noise at 5 second intervals, outside the protocol defined under Maine State law which requires 1/8 of a second intervals, would mute, or even mask short duration repetitive sounds (thumping, whooshing, popping) generally accepted as a characteristic of all modern industrial wind turbines.

Despite these and other serious questions regarding the adequacy of the sound surveys, Fisk announced at the outset of the December 18 meeting that he had approved and mailed on that day, a letter to First Wind notifying the developer that the project was in compliance with its permit.

We disagree with Mr. Fisk.

And it's quite possible so does Mr. Brown. Meeting minutes taken during a March 5, 2009 conference call with Maine's Public Health Director Dr. Dora Mills, Andrew Fisk, Warren Brown and others reveals a very different situation. Here, Mr. Brown highlights concerns with existing studies and states "Wind turbine noise needs more investigation!" (exclamation included).

What's more intriguing from the meeting minutes are the statements by Dr. Mills who appears to be quarreling with Brown over whether turbine noise has any adverse health effects. While Mr. Brown is steadfast in raising his concerns, it is disconcerting to see how Dr. Mills carefully scripted her June 21 public comments after knowing what she was told just three months before.

Today we learned that the Record Hill wind energy facility in Roxbury Maine received conditional approval by the Maine DEP to proceed. Based on the brief glimpse afforded us by the meeting minutes, we can only guess what the internal debates were like within ME-DEP prior to ‘green-lighting' this project. What is obvious, however, is that Maine has picked its sides, and we can expect Roxbury to be a repeat of Mars Hill.

AUG 12 2009
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