May 22, 2013 —
The Town Board in Delaware will hold a public hearing on May 29 to discuss proposed zoning amendments. Originally the amendments included a provision allowing gas compressor stations as a permitted special use. That section was removed at the May town board meeting without much discussion.
But the board did not remove the section gutting Delaware’s noise law. A gas compressor station could obviously come to town without any special provision in the zoning law. The weaker the noise law, the more attractive the town. Is this the reason for gutting the noise law?
But gutting the noise law is disastrous even apart from compressor stations. The amendments regulate wind power systems, which can be very noisy. Loud noise can obviously come from any number of sources. Why on earth has the town decided to allow noise that is four times as loud as is permitted by existing law?
This question was first put to the board at its meeting in April. The response was that it was not true that the amendments allowed noise four times as loud. An explanation was promised. None was given.
The question was put to the board again at its May meeting. This time it was not denied that the amendments allow noise four times as loud as existing law. But supervisor Ed Sykes and the chair of the planning board, Gerald Euker, refused to say why they thought this was good policy. Several residents asked why this simple question could not be answered. The response was always the same: We will answer you at the public hearing.
Why this stonewalling? Why not explain yourself in advance? Wouldn’t that make for a more productive discussion at the public hearing?
Mr. Sykes said that the proposed amendment contains a simple new rule prohibiting noise more than five decibels above the ambient (or background) noise. But the rule, as proposed, is in fact nearly impossible to enforce. The amendments do not define “ambient noise” and do not specify how it is to be measured. Most important, the amendments do not set a default ambient noise level—to be assumed unless it can be proved otherwise. This is a fundamental omission. It means that every time a noise issue comes up, the town will have to conduct an ambient sound survey. It would obviously be better to have a realistic default ambient noise level and put the burden of proof on the noisemaker.
The gas-friendly Town of Windsor, in Broome County, understands all this. It has a gas compressor station. And it has a well drafted comprehensive noise law. That law prohibits noise more than five decibels (dBA) above ambient during the day or three dBA above ambient during the night. It specifies a default ambient noise level of 35 dBA. The town is currently involved in a drawn-out struggle with the owner of the compressor station over precisely the issue of whether the owner can prove that the ambient noise level is higher than 35 dBA.
Questions for the public hearing: Why do you propose to allow noise four times as loud as existing law? Why is no default ambient noise level specified? Why does the proposed noise amendment not even specify which decibel scale is to be used? Why, in other words, have you not given us a careful and protective noise law, as the pro-gas town of Windsor has done? Why do you refuse to explain your thinking when you are asked by residents? In short, what on earth is going on in Delaware?
[Liam Murphy is a resident of Kenoza Lake, NY.]