GPD: Biomass noise 'clearly heard' but below legal threshold

The woodyard of the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center is shown on August 21, 2013. Neighbors have complained about noise from the plant.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 12:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 12:40 p.m.

As noise complaints from residents of the Turkey Creek Golf and Country Club continue to pour in, Gainesville police began taking sound readings of the biomass plant in the early morning hours Tuesday.

Using an Alachua County Sheriff's Office noise meter and assisted by deputies, police said those initial tests showed that noise from the 100-megawatt plant could be “clearly heard” at some spots.

The noise, however, did not exceed the threshold to violate the city's noise ordinance. That law limits “continuous” noise between the hours of 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. to 60 decibels measured at 200 feet from the property line.

Sixty decibels is comparable to the sound generated by a conversation, a typewriter or a sewing machine, according to the American Hearing Research Foundation.

GPD spokesman Officer Ben Tobias said complaints come in to the agency on a nightly basis and testing will continue. He said police will recommend that the city bring in certified noise experts

“These are not certified tests,” Tobias said of the early Tuesday morning readings. “These are preliminary tests. We will continue to work with residents and respond to complaints.”

At 2:15 a.m., sound readings taken at Desoto Trail Park, where U.S. 441 and County Road 25A split, were in the range of 55 to 57 decibels, rising above 60 when traffic passed, Tobias said in a morning email summary of incidents sent to the media.

Inside the Turkey Creek community, readings did not exceed 45 decibels, Tobias wrote.

At the Whitney Mobile Home Park, in the 8400 block of Northwest 13th Street, noise from the plant was not audible, according to GPD.

City Commissioner Todd Chase also took a ride out to the entrance of Turkey Creek around midnight. He described what he heard in an email sent to the other commissioners, City Manager Russ Blackburn, City Attorney Nicolle Shalley and Gainesville Regional Utilities General Manager Bob Hunzinger.

“I can't say that this was the time when this was the loudest or not, but what I can tell you is that I can see why we are going to have a problem with relying on simple db level readings and relating them to our noise ordinance,” Chase wrote.

“It reminded me very much like all of the times I have spent on military airbases around the world with the constant sound of jets taking off. It was not as if they were flying right over you, rather it was just a constant roar as we keep reading about and reminded me very much of being in my room on base and just always hearing the sound of the planes.

“There was also a strange whistle and whine that would come and go which was louder and high pitched. I doubt that what I heard last night would reach into the 70 dbs, but it would not have to be in order to be a pretty bad nuisance.”

Residents of Turkey Creek, a community of more than 1,000 homes, have expressed concerns and complaints over noise from the nearby biomass plant since shortly after the plant began generating power in August. They have taken their concerns to the city of Alachua, where their community is located, the county, Gainesville and the company that owns the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center.

Emails residents have sent frequently describe the roar of a jet off in the distance.

In a letter sent to the city of Gainesville Monday, the homeowners association of Turkey Creek cited concerns with noise, air pollution and truck traffic and asked that the plant be shut down.

“We are not faulting the good intentions of the Gainesville City Commission in approving the biomass plant as a fuel source alternate to fossil fuels,” the letter read.

“By this letter we not only voice our serious concerns as articulated above, but ask that you shut it down, conduct more research as to whether placement anywhere in Gainesville is viable without risk to human health and the environment and, if alternate placement is not viable, scrap it and replace the trees removed during construction.”

In response to the complaints, GREC hired its own environmental firm to take sound tests. The biomass company said the plant will no longer start up between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. until the power station reaches commercial operation and the city assumes the authority to decide when to fire it up. Additionally, trucks may now only deliver wood only between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

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