Ancram turns down the volume

Wind turbine noise subsides but not nearly enough for some

ANCRAM—The dust-up over two mountaintop wind turbines may be settled. But whether the situation remains calm can only be answered, literally, by the blowing wind.

Two wind turbines on Winchell Mountain, one owned by Joe Crocco at the Copper Star Alpaca Farm, 132 Carson Road, the other by Michael Gershon at 143 Carson Road, have been the subject of ongoing noise complaints by neighbors and legal action by the Town of Ancram to revoke the special use permits issued by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) in 2010 to allow the turbines to operate.

The town based its case against the wind turbine owners on permit provisions that say the permits may be revoked for failure to disclose material facts. In this case, the town alleges that the applicants failed to disclose noise problems related to the turbines.

The Town Board voted to go forward with the revocation process in February and notices of violation (NOV) were issued April 17 by Zoning Enforcement Officer Ed Ferratto. Hearings before the ZBA to consider whether the permits should be revoked were slated for earlier this month. But recently both hearings were cancelled and the NOVs withdrawn.

At the September 19 Town Board meeting, town Supervisor Art Bassin explained that in recent months owners of the turbines have had repairs and maintenance performed on the machines that have resulted in a significant decrease in the noise the turbines emit.

Mr. Bassin said in a follow-up phone call that at the height of the noise crisis, he was getting three complaints per day from distressed neighbors, compared to the one or two complaints he has received over the past several weeks.

Mr. Bassin said a major break-through in the case came when the NOVs were issued because they made the turbine owners pay attention to the problem.

Doug Passieri of Hudson Valley Wind Energy in Gallatin, who sold and installed the turbines, told The Columbia Paper Wednesday that there have “never been noise problems” with the turbines and whatever sound they emit is part of their “normal operation.”

Asked if he had indeed performed work on the turbines recently that caused them to become quieter, Mr. Passieri said, “We went through the motions A to Z and the turbines were running perfectly. We rechecked tolerances and tensions and did things to accommodate the town. We made some adjustments,” he said. As he has from the outset, Mr. Passieri says that the noise complaints are a result of feuding neighbors and not the fault of the turbines.

To substantiate his claim, Mr. Passieri forwarded an email from Mark Mayhew, project manager for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s (NYSERDA) On-Site Wind Turbine Incentive Program, which contains a list of 79 NYSERDA Renewable Portfolio Standard-funded Bergey wind turbine installations and the distance the base of each one is from the closest neighbor. According to the list, the Carson Road turbines are 350 and 370 feet from their closest neighbors. The turbine nearest to a neighbor on the list is 250 feet and the one farthest away is 1,600 feet.

Mr. Mayhew’s email says that “Google Earth was used to determine this distance. With the exception of the two turbines on Carson Road, I know of no other sites where the neighbors have complained about noise.”

Turbine owner Joe Crocco said by phone Wednesday that he had a “defective nose cone” replaced on his turbine, which was responsible for producing a “fog horn” type sound and he had also had some field upgrades made to the body of the turbine to reduce the sound.

Mr. Crocco said that in checking his inverter over the weekend wind speeds had reached 25 to 30 mph. He said that generally he hears “no audible sounds” from his turbine, but that some “prop noise” can be heard when the power is out and the turbine is “free-wheeling.” He said 60 to 70 people visited his alpaca farm over the weekend as part of the Ancram Historic Farming Community event, none of them deterred by the turbine. Complaints about the noise are “very much exaggerated,” Mr. Crocco said.

Asked if he had noticed a decrease in wind turbine noise as of late, Joe Amato, a wind turbine neighbor who has been vocal about the intensity and disturbing array of noises he has been subjected to by the turbines, told The Columbia Paper Wednesday, “the bottom line is no wind, no noise.” Mr. Amato said the turbines were improperly installed and noisy even with low level winds, a problem that “may have been resolved.” But he disputed any claim that the turbines are no longer emitting window-rattling, sleep-prohibiting sounds because the high winds, 50 mph and above, that cause the turbines to produce the worst noise have not occurred since last April. He also said the direction of the wind plays a part.

Supervisor Bassin agreed that whether or not the turbines maintain a low noise profile remains to be seen in the face of the howling winter winds to come.

In the meantime Councilman Chris Thomas suggested at the meeting that if all the ruckus was caused by a maintenance issue that the town should see if it can recover the $12,000 to $13,000 it has spent pursuing legal action against the turbine owners. Mr. Bassin said he would look into it.

The supervisor noted that should the turbine situation escalate again, the NOVs can be reissued.

In a follow-up email Mr. Bassin said he and Mr. Ferratto are meeting with wind turbine neighbors Saturday, September 28 to discuss their concerns and questions about the town’s decision to withdraw the NOVs.

To contact Diane Valden email .

 

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