Several Cohocton town residents want to know why they have to call wind developer First Wind to complain about noise from wind turbines instead of town officials.
Residents packed the town board meeting Monday night, hoping to hear how the complaints will be handled.
According to Joe Bob, one of the town’s code enforcement officers, the town’s wind law specifies exactly how much noise can be made at a certain range.
Bob said the town law states the noise cannot reach higher than 50 decibels at the closest non-participating property line. According to town law, no turbines are allowed within 1,500 feet of a property line without a variance.
The law also sets lower limits for some sounds. Any “pure tone” noise, as defined by the law, is limited to 45 decibels.
“It’s in-depth, very methodical, very thorough,” Bob said.
With several residents offering complaints to the town, First Wind and the media, Bob set out how the complaint system works.
First, the town needs to determine the sound levels put out by the turbines. Right now, the town’s wind noise monitoring firm, Massachusetts-based firm Tech Environmental, is trying to monitor 10 turbines around Cohocton for noise at peak operating time.
Bob said the town’s noise monitoring firm tests for noise several ways, including shutting off turbines to check background noise, sheltering the meters from the wind and repeating tests over a period of time.
“The problem is, they’re not done yet,” Bob said, adding until a baseline of how much noise is being created, it will be hard to determine what is above the legal noise limit and what is not.
Once that baseline is set, he said, residents can call a toll-free telephone number to lodge a complaint, which rings into the First Wind office in Cohocton. The town code enforcement office, a First Wind representative and monitoring firms hired by both the town and First Wind — but both paid for by First Wind — will set up at the complainant’s residence and monitor the noise. If the noise is over the limit, the turbine will be shut down at peak noise production.
Residents spoke out againts the process, saying the noise now is too great to wait for a long study to be undertaken.
“They’re making so much noise, I can’t sleep at night,” Graham said. “The thing is reading 82-110 decibels at some times.”
Graham said he thinks he was lied to when First Wind, then called UPC Wind, offered to place turbines on his property.
“They told us we wouldn’t hear anything at 900 feet,” he said. “The noise is so great that my windows are vibrating.”
Graham added he has hired an attorney to pursue the complaint process if needed.
“If you’re the code officer, you should be able to monitor these things and enforce this,” Graham said.
Zigenfus said there is little the town can do but follow the procedure it agreed to.
“We’re bound by what the law is,” he said. “If we violate their rights under a contract, we could end up in even more trouble.
Steve Trude, one of the heads of Cohocton Wind Watch and co-plaintiff in three lawsuits against the town over the development, said he feels the system should not go through First Wind.
“We don’t feel well calling Jane (Towner, a Cohocton-based First Wind official),” Trude said. “The protections need to be tweaked.”