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Martha’s Vineyard planners visit Vinalhaven to see, hear turbines in action

Human impacts, News, Wind turbines 4 Comments »

I just came across this fascinating article from the Martha’s Vineyard Times that discusses a recent trip by local residents and planners up to Maine to participate in a Sustainable Island Living conference sponsored by the Island Institute, which catalyzed the construction of the controversial wind farm on Vinalhaven.

The entire article is well worth reading, but I’ll highlight these two thoughtful comments from experienced local planners after they visited the Vinalhaven turbines:

Bill Veno, senior planner for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, talked to some Vinalhaven residents about their concerns, and noted, “Something that strikes me is that the way communities have traditionally looked at noise and have a noise limit with decibels, that tool wasn’t really designed for the type of noise that seems to be involved with wind turbines. Because it’s not really the decibels so much, and it’s not exactly a pure tone situation, and so we’re really trying as a society to figure out where that appropriate level is.”

Veno’s wife Aubyn noted that “When we were at the site, it sounded to me like airplanes flying overhead. But then we stopped at the bus driver’s house, who lived about three-quarters of a mile away, and got out of the bus and listened from there, and it sounded really just like ocean waves do in the distance from our house on the Vineyard.” (Ed. note: this confirms that the turbines are indeed audible, even at three-quarters of a mile; if your rural home does not, in fact, have ocean waves or a constant road noise in the distance, the turbines will be a new sonic presence.)

Nick  Puner, a former Westchester County planning member now living on Martha’s Vineyard, said, “The Vinalhaven turbines dominate the landscape, and they’re awesome. They’re not ugly, but they’re right on top of everything. I definitely think it’s a mixed bag.”  He also felt that the sound was very close to that of the background noise that day, though clearly audible: “I didn’t think it was that dramatic, but on the other hand, I don’t dismiss that somebody could be seriously upset by the constancy of it,” he said. “One person’s music is another person’s noise.”

Vinalhaven, Falmouth community wind noise issues remain contentious

Human impacts, News, Wind turbines No Comments »

Two of the “hot button” wind farms of 2010 are headed into the new year with continuing local rancor, despite conciliatory talk from authorities in each town when neighbors began to raise noise issues a year ago.

In Vinalhaven, Maine, where three turbines went online in October 2009, providing power for the local electric co-op, the State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has agreed with neighbors that the turbines are exceeding state noise limits at times (see this detailed Bangor Daily News article and this recent OpEd by a neighbor)

Fox Islands Windfarm, Vinalhaven (courtesy Bangor Daily News)

Fox Islands Windfarm, Vinalhaven (courtesy Bangor Daily News)

The DEP ruled that recordings paid for by local residents suggest the turbines are “likely to exceed” night time noise limits of 45dB when the wind speed is higher at the top of the turbines than the bottom; the recordings found noise levels up to 47dB.  George Baker, CEO of Fox Island Wind, the local LLC formed to build the turbines, notes that FIW’s noise consultant “absolutely doesn’t agree” with the finding, suggesting that ambient noise contributions to the overall sound mean that the turbines themselves are operating at just under the acceptable noise limit.  The DEP gave FIW until January to submit an operational plan that will slow the turbines when wind conditions match those during the recordings.

Baker contends that the conditions are rare, and occur only in summer.  However, many locals have reported Read the rest of this entry »

Oregon Public Health Division listens to wind farm noise experiences

Human impacts, News No Comments »

The State of Oregon has begun an assessment of possible health effects experienced by wind farm neighbors.  The state Public Health Division held “listening sessions” in three communities over the past few days, to hear from citizens.  “With any development, you start learning more about potential concerns as more people start experiencing it,” said Sajata Joshi, an epidemiologist for the state. “Our goal now is to hear what people have to say, and see if we can find solutions that work for communities and for the state’s goals.”

UPDATE: Check out this comprehensive article on the Oregon health impact assessments and wind turbine noise in general, published in early 2011.

While the Health Impact Assessment will “use the best available science to evaluate public health risks,” the Oregon process is also including anecdotal reports from neighbors, such as those received in these listening sessions.  A limitation of most previous state and industry-funded health impact reports has been that they considered only “direct, causal” impacts: that is, their focus was narrowed to studying previous research to address the narrow question of whether the sound levels being experienced can directly cause physiological symptoms to appear.  It is very likely that many of the reports of health problems, such as headaches, dizziness, and the like are indirect effects of sleep disruption or stress caused by moderate levels of audible wind farm noise at relatively close ranges, and it’s promising that Oregon is taking into account the actual experiences of wind farm neighbors who have been affected.

Jae Douglas, Oregon Public Health’s moderator, said the most frequent wind-farm concern she’s heard is about stress. Her office is charged with writing an assessment of any health impacts from turbines for consideration by the siting council, Oregon Department of Energy and county commissions — agencies that make the decisions on wind-energy projects. A draft will come in March and the final assessment in June.  You can stay current on the process at this Oregon DHS website.

Oil and Gas Producers turn focus to decommissioning old offshore rigs

Ocean No Comments »

The International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (OGP) has re-instated its Decommissioning Committee, in light of the fact that many of the over 5000 offshore oil rigs are nearing the end of their operating life.  A UK Decommissioning Conference was held in October, and during 2011 the OGP Committee “aims to establish programmes to study the environmental consequences of decommissioning and examine technology development, best practices and benchmarking.”

Certainly, given today’s increasing awareness of the effects of noise on marine life, it’s likely that environmental assessments of decommissioning activities will include consideration of their acoustic impacts.  Most likely, increased noise will be relatively short-duration (in the scale of weeks or months); in regions where multiple decommissioning projects are underway at once, there may need to be consideration of the cumulative impacts.

In the October issue of the OGP newsletter, the reinstatement of the Decommissioning Committee was noted as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Squid can hear! And why it may matter…

Science, Seismic Surveys, shipping No Comments »

A month or so ago, new research by Aran Moody at Woods Hole was published and garnered a bit of press attention — perhaps largely because it involved squid, whose public fan base rivals that of their more “charismatic” brethren, the whales and dolphins.  I’ve been meaning to post about it, but didn’t get to it.

Just as well, because today, Canada’s MacLean’s magazine blogs the story just right, offering the best mix of science and why it matters that I’ve seen.  The key points are that squid appear more sensitive to low-frequency sounds or pressure waves (such as that perhaps preceding the approach of a whale, rather than the echolocation clicks of dolphins), and this could mean that shipping or seismic surveys may displace squid.  There’s also a chance that invasive squid species, such as the Humboldt squid decimating fisheries along the northeast Pacific coast, could be chased away with noise (oh, joy!).  Check out the full post at MacLeans here.

FWS initiates new environmental assessment on oil and gas drilling in Baca National Wildlife Refuge

Effects of Noise on Wildlife, News No Comments »

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is going back to the table to write a new EA or EIS to assess the impacts of exploratory oil and gas wells in the Baca National Wildlife Refuge in southern Colorado.  After initial approvals were derailed by a lawsuit and injunction that stressed the noise impacts of drilling at Great Sand Dunes National Park, the FWS settled the lawsuit in September by withdrawing its previous approvals and agreeing to more comprehensive environmental studies.  Wasting no time, the scoping meetings for the new EA or EIS took place in late October, and scoping comments are being accepted until November 10, after which FWS will begin writing a new EA; if significant impacts are found, an EIS will be produced. A pdf version of the FWS Powerpoint at the public meeting can be viewed online. Drilling operations at each of the two sites would last for 90 days; if the exploratory wells find significant potential for commercial development, further environmental analysis would precede any future activity on the Refuge.

Baca National Wildlife Refuge

Baca National Wildlife Refuge

The Baca NWR was established in 2003 and is not yet open to the public; a “conceptual management plan” was released in 2005; the lack of a completed management plan was part of the reason that the earlier drilling was challenged.

NPS concerned about noise impacts from shooting range near Walnut Canyon National Monument

Human impacts, News, Wildlands No Comments »

In September, the Arizona Game and Fish Department released a noise study for a proposed shooting range on a site that lies 1-3 miles from the boundary of Walnut Canyon National Monument, east of Flagstaff. The results have spurred the Superintendent of Walnut Canyon to express concerns to the Game and Fish Department about the effects of the noise on visitors and wildlife, in the hopes that planned berming and other noise mitigation measures at the facility can reduce noise to the point that it is inaudible in key areas.

The Foster Ranch Shooting Range site was purchased last year after a 16-year effort to find a suitable location for a state-run range in Northern Arizona; previous sites fell victim to local resistance or grazing leases that were still active.  The noise study found that shooting was audible, but well within state noise limits, at all locations monitored, which included a nearby residence, random sites a mile away, and one site at Walnut Canyon, 3 miles from the range (download pdf of study). At Walnut Canyon, gunshot noise ranged up to 52dB, Read the rest of this entry »

RIP Irv Teibel, creator of “Environments” LPs

Arts, News 2 Comments »

Irv Teibel passed away on Oct. 28 in Austin, TX. He was 72, and died of cancer that was diagnosed only a couple weeks before his death.  Irv first opened my ears to our living soundscapes in around 1972, when as a teenager I purchased two of his Environments LPs. He released this series under the banner of Syntonic Research Inc. between 1970 and 1979. The series ignited a worldwide interest in field recordings  and was an initial entry into the world of carefully recorded natural sounds for both listeners and later recordists. Irv’s family has created a page on the Caring Bridge website that explains the circumstances of his final years, as well as providing a space for folks to leave remembrances.

The Environments series (see detailed Wikipedia entry) featured a simple, classic format, with side-long tracks that allowed deep experiences of one particular soundscape.  The most popular titles included The Ultimate Thunderstorm (recorded from a balcony in the city!) and the The Psychologically Ultimate Seashore (in which he manipulated recordings from the beach to more closely imitate the auditory experience of being there). These, while not unlike later relaxation-oriented productions, were more primarily respected due to their immersive, high fidelity sonic standards.  The series also explored some themes that were more experimental, often pairing one side of natural soundscape with a flip side of featuring themes such as a Central Park “Be-in”, electronic bell sounds,  and a chorus chanting “om.”  (Perhaps these did not sell so well, as the series was limited to natural soundscapes during its final few releases.)

Irv’s work was a precursor to much of what EarthEar and modern environmental sound artists have done, combining state of the art field recording with careful and sensitive studio composition.  There’s no doubting that the Environments series, which garnered widespread press coverage and appreciation, was the foundation for all later efforts to create and market compelling field recordings to the general public.  For many of us who have continued to care about the health of acoustic habitats and who revel in the complexity and diversity of natural soundscapes, Irv’s work was an aesthetic entry point that affirmed our own passions for listening and honoring the natural world’s rich voice.

Thanks, Irv.  We were listening!

Irv Teibel, 1938-2010

Irv Teibel, 1938-2010