The Willow Creek Wind Farm has been given a reprieve from needing to address noise violations, as the Morrow County Court (the local name for county commission) decided not to enforce the state noise law. Oregon has some of the most stringent noise standards, 10dB over night time ambient, which amounts to a noise limit of 36dB; the commissioners decided that the noise violations were minor and rare enough that they would not enforce them, a decision that was largely spurred by the fact that the state has abandoned its noise control enforcement efforts in 1991, leaving enforcement of the state standard to local authorities.
As covered previously on AEInews, dueling sound studies presented very different pictures of the noise violations. An Invenergy study showed rare violations, but did not study sound at high wind speeds; a sound study by local residents showed excess noise especially at high wind speeds, with one home experiencing noise over 40db on the majority of nights.
“I’m flabbergasted,” said Jim McCandlish, a lawyer for three of the neighbors, after the vote. “The county court has an obligation to protect the health and welfare of its citizens.” McCandlish said his clients’ constitutional right to due process was being denied, and said the neighbors intend to appeal the decision to Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.
The County’s actions were in part a response to a ruling by LUBA in June that questioned the county’s interpretation of the 36dB noise limit. In its ruling, LUBA sided with the wind developer, which had said that the state laws allow wind farms to produce up to 10dB more than ambient sound levels; the county had been suggesting that if the developer doesn’t conduct ambient noise studies before construction, they must assume ambient of 26dB. The LUBA decision said that this requirement to choose whether or not to do an ambient study prior to construction did not appear in the state rules, leaving room for companies to show later that measurements of turbine noise levels exceeding 36dB were made when the ambient was above 26dB.