Buzzing From Fisheries Center Bugs Neighbors in Franklin

FRANKLIN — Peter and Catherine Latson bought land in the Taunton Bay Shores subdivision in 2002 with the intent of building a retirement home far from the suburban sprawl of their home in Tarrytown, N.Y.

Today they say their more than $200,000 investment is worthless because of a buzzing sound emitted by two chillers at the neighboring Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research, which is owned by the University of Maine.

“We bought this property as a retirement place for its beautiful and peaceful setting on the bay. But you can’t sit outside without this ‘eeeeee,’” said Peter Latson. “It would be ridiculous to build there right now.”

The state said it addressed the problem by installing a padded stockade fence supplemented by a plywood form, but some neighbors say the sound, which varies in intensity with the time of day and wind direction, is still very audible.

Resource Systems Engineering recently conducted a sound test for the state at the site and determined that the noise level is well within allowable limits.

“The report shows that the facility is in substantial compliance with that standard,” said James Beyer, regional licensing and compliance manager for the Department of Environmental Protection, in an e-mail to Al Clay, who lives in a house on lot No. 2. “If a project is in compliance with the noise rules that does not mean you will never hear it.”

Al Clay and Ken Fogelman, president of the Taunton Bay Homeowners Association, have engaged in an extensive letter-writing campaign with the state Department of Environmental Protection, local selectmen and Governor Paul LePage, among others.

Clay has stacks of paper and a recording documenting what he says is an intrusive level of noise.

“I’m not an acoustic engineer,” he said. “I’m just someone trying to preserve the tranquility of our little piece of earth.”

A retired chief with the U.S. Coast Guard, Clay said the culprits are two 90-ton chillers that were positioned too close to a building wall, which reflects the sound.

Stewart Harvey, interim director of facilities management at the University of Maine, said the chillers maintain environmental conditions for the aquaculture center’s brood stock and for larval rearing systems in the hatchery.

“They are commercially important marine fish that are of interest to the developing aquaculture industry,” Harvey said. “They include species such as Atlantic halibut and Atlantic cod.”

Clay and Fogelman say the only solution is to enclose the chillers completely to muffle the sound.

They said the problem began when the state declared — as it was applying for permits to expand the property — that noise would not be an issue.

Had the noise level defined it as a “major” project instead of a “minor” project, state regulations would have required testing and possibly a public hearing.

Some state officials did agree after the homeowners complained that the situation warranted a second look.

John Cullen, environmental specialist in the Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Land and Water Quality, wrote in an Aug. 4, 2011, e-mail to Clay that the facility was “in violation of their Site Location of Development Act permit” and that a noise study would be conducted shortly.

Months followed with phone calls, e-mails and letters from the homeowners to state officials.

RSE conducted a sound test July 10-11 of this year and found the noise to be within allowable limits.

Beyer, the DEP compliance manager, said in an e-mail to Clay that the sound level limits are 55 dBA daytime and 45 dBA nighttime. (The dBA is a scale measuring decibel levels.)

If the sound is particularly intrusive, or tonal, a 5 dBA penalty is added.

RSE found day and nighttime levels were acceptable and any unusual spikes were attributed to traffic on Salmon Farm Road and aircraft.

Clay said he is baffled by the numbers because the penalty that was applied was often less than 5 dBA.

“It may be the way the program calculates hourly averages. I don’t know,” he said.

Clay said in an e-mail to Beyer Aug. 10 that “the explanation by the testers that the excess levels were caused by either traffic, or aircraft, is baseless.”

“The Salmon Farm Road is a dead end dirt road and ends at the CCAR facility,” Clay said. “In my 20-plus years of living in the area, aircraft traffic is almost nonexistent.”

Beyer also told Clay that the period during which the homeowners could appeal had expired.

The appeal period is 30 days, Beyer said, and the clock began ticking when the permit was issued for the project April 24, 2012. The test results were not available until late July.

Clay said he has contacted the office of Senate President Kevin Raye and is hoping for some intervention there.

“I find it hard to believe that state regulations would allow this to happen,” Clay said. “If laws need to be changed, that’s what we need to fight for.”

For more community news, pick up a copy of The Ellsworth American.

Jacqueline Weaver

Jacqueline Weaver

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Jacqueline's beat covers the eastern Hancock County towns of Lamoine through Gouldsboro as well as Steuben in Washington County. She was a reporter for the New York Times, United Press International and Reuters before moving to Maine. She also publicized medical research at Yale School of Medicine and scientific findings at Yale University for nine years.[email protected]
Jacqueline Weaver

Latest posts by Jacqueline Weaver (see all)