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For second wind farm, Maine town considers larger setbacks, lower sound limits

News, Wind turbines 1 Comment »

Nearly a year of experience with a ten-turbine wind farm has led the town of Woodstock, Maine to consider nudging any future wind developments a bit further from homes.  As reported here in July, the Spruce Mountain Wind Farm sits more than three-quarters of a mile from any homes; a few homes (perhaps 10) are within a mile, and another dozen or so are within a mile and a half. So far, Woodstock’s wind ordinance committee has received more than a dozen letters of concern about unexpected noise impacts, a number that would seem to represent a significant proportion of residents within that area.

This week, the town’s Wind Ordinance Committee presented its draft ordinanceto govern future wind development to the Selectmen; the town meeting will vote on the plan in March.  The new rules would require setbacks of 1.25 miles to non-participating property lines, and limit sound levels to 35dB at night, and 45dB during the day (10dB quieter than state rules require).  Committee member Charlie Reiss said the group tried to find the right balance that would make future projects tolerable for neighbors without creating restrictions so severe that the projects would be impossible to build.  Selectman Rick Young said he had read all of the 12-page ordinance before the meeting. “I’m impressed. I thought it was very thorough,” he said.  The committee will continue meeting and making adjustments to the proposal, in anticipation of the town meeting vote in March.

D-TAG study listens to what Puget Sound orcas hear

Bioacoustics, Effects of Noise on Wildlife, Science No Comments »

OrcapictureBrad Hanson and colleagues at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center are currently conducting a second year of exciting new acoustics field research with the Southern Resident killer whales of Puget Sound.  As they did last year, researchers are attaching suction-cup digital acoustic recording tags (DTAGs) to orcas; the tags remain attached for up to four hours, all the while collecting both dive profile data and recording the sound heard (and made) by the animal.  Hanson says that “we’re interested in trying to figure out if the noise levels are interfering with the whale’s ability to communicate effectively during foraging and or actually interferes with their foraging.”

Judge OK’s construction of Undersea Warfare Training Range near right whale habitat

Effects of Noise on Wildlife, Ocean, Sonar No Comments »

A US District Judge has ruled against NRDC and others who had challenged the Navy’s permit to build an instrumented training range off the coast of Georgia and Florida, claiming that construction should not proceed until the Navy completes the full EIS for the training activities that will take place there.  Construction is slated to begin within a couple of years, with training commencing sometime around 2018; the range would have about 300 sensors installed on the ocean floor over an area of about 500 square miles, and would host training missions involving submarines, surface ships, and airplanes.

The Undersea Warfare Training Range (USWTR) would begin 50 miles offshore, while a key winter birthing and nursing ground for North Atlantic right whales extends out to 20 miles offshore.  Only about 400 North Atlantic right whales remain, with ship strikes being a major concern, along with the effects of any additional stress on mothers or young whales near the Navy’s operations. “We understand that’s the right whale’s critical habitat,” said Jene Nissen, the range’s program director. “We looked at the type of effects that training could have on right whales, and we are confident it will be very minimal.”  Construction will be suspended from November to April, when the whales are migrating and congregating in the birthing grounds, but the Navy has not agreed to suspend training in those months, or to comply with offshore speed limits imposed on private and commercial ships, saying that this would interfere with their ability to carry out realistic and effective training.

The groups that filed the suit in 2010 are considering an appeal; Sharon Young of the Humane Society of the United States stressed that “We certainly would never argue to undermine our national defense, but it’s also reasonable to ask the military not to jeopardize a species that is just barely hanging on.”

See more AEInews coverage of the USWTR here.

Navy receives NMFS OK for LFAS operations 2012-2017

Effects of Noise on Wildlife, News, Ocean, Sonar No Comments »

In August, the National Marine Fisheries Service issued its Record of Decision that will allow the Navy to operate its Low Frequency Active Sonar systems for the next five years.  NMFS will issue a new Letter of Authorization each year, in order to accommodate new information as needed, but the overall parameters of the permits will remain essentially the same throughout the five years.

AbleWEBWhile the Final Rule allows the Navy to operate the SURTASS-LFA sonar in most of the world’s oceans (Pacific, Indian, Atlantic Oceans and Mediterranean Sea), the Navy’s operational plans for the first year remain centered in the western Pacific, given its particular focus on tracking Chinese submarines (see previous AEI coverage of tensions with China over LFAS surveillance).  Only four missions are planned in other areas, and all these will take place in north and south of Hawaii. The Navy has four ships outfitted with the SUTASS-LFA sonar; three (USNS Victorious, Effective, and Able, seen at left, appear to be based in the Pacific, and one (USNS Impeccable) in the Atlantic; each ship could operate for up to 240 days and transmit SURTASS LFA sonar for up to 432 hours per year (the ships transmit sound roughly 7.5% of the time they are operating).

The Rule and the Letters of Authorization allow the Navy to cause temporary behavioral effects (a “Level B Harassment,” defined as animals hearing the low-frequency sonar at levels ranging from 120-180dB, possibly changing their behavior) on 94 species, with no more than 12% of any regional stock of each species being exposed to the sonar in any given year.  The Navy anticipates, based on species abundance in each of the eleven designated operational areas for the first year, that for most species, the percentage will be far lower: usually well under 1% and topping out at 3% for a handful of species in the 9 western Pacific operational areas; around Hawaii, several species will see 1-3% of the population having behavioral impacts, with a handful of species topping out at 6-7%.

Few animals are expected to be close enough to be injured, and the Navy and NMFS presume that physical harm (Level A Takes) will be avoided completely thanks to various mitigation measures, including marine mammal observers, passive acoustic monitoring, and power-downs when whales are close.  But given the uncertainties, NMFS is authorizing injurious or lethal takes of up to 31 whales and 25 seals and sea lions.

The previous five-year LFAS permits, issued in 2007, faced a court challenge based largely on the ways that the Navy and NMFS designated offshore biologically important areas (OBIA), and on the idea that nearshore exclusion zones should extend at times beyond the 12 nautical mile zone covered by those permits.  Most designated and potential Marine Protected Areas (340 of 403) are already within 12 nautical miles of coasts, so are protected from high-intensity ensonification; a more thorough examination of the rest led to the inclusion of one additional OBIA in this round of permitting, with two more being monitored for possible inclusion as more research is done in them (many were omitted because the species of concern in those areas are high- and mid-frequency vocalizers, and LFAS sounds will have more of an effect on larger whales that hear lower frequencies).  A total of 22 OBIAs are designated worldwide, some considered important year-round, and some seasonally.  Sonar sounds must be below 180db within an area extending 1km beyond the boundaries of the OBIAs (thus aiming to keep sounds under 175dB within the OBIAs); likewise, the same 180dB maximum will apply at the boundary of the 12 nautical mile coastal zone.  The Federal Register notice of the Final Rule contains many pages of comments from the NRDC, Marine Mammal Commission, and others, along with responses from NMFS.