BP's Tatics in Cape Vincent Ny

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A letter to the Public Service Commission Concerning BP's Acoustical Consultant

Dear Secretary Cohen,
 In order to keep you informed as fully as possible regarding your applicant in the Art. X process, case number 12-F-0410,  please find attached a complaint letter (Acoustical Consultants Complaint.docx) regarding BP's acoustical consultant David Hessler to  Jackie Williams, Executive Director,   National Council of Acoustical Consultants.
 I trust you will find this pertinent and informative.
Thank you for your consideration.


John Byrne

The document referenced above ~ 
(Acoustical Consultants Complaint.docx) regarding BP's acoustical consultant David Hessler to  Jackie Williams, Executive Director,   National Council of Acoustical Consultants.

March 20, 2013

Jackie Williams
Executive Director
National Council of Acoustical Consultants
9100 Purdue Road
Suite 200
Indianapolis, IN 46286

Dear Jackie:

As you may be aware, BP is developing a 285-megawatt wind power project in my hometown of Cape Vincent, N.Y.

While assessing the proposed project’s environmental impact, a disagreement arose between two NCAC members about the proper measurement of ambient sound levels.

Although I am neither an expert in acoustics nor a member of your organization, I noticed that the NCAC has a canon of ethics. It asks members to “hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public in the performance of their professional duties.”

We’ve experienced a real-world example in Cape Vincent that I believe could generate good discussion among your group about how ethics comes into conflict with self-interest.

In 2007, BP paid Hessler Associates to perform a sound level assessment at seven sites where it proposed to erect towers. In its study, the firm found that the residual sound level – “except for the occasional nighttime lulls” – “typically range(d) between 40 and 55 dBA.” It also found that the background sound level from the point where the turbines began to operate to the point where they reached maximum sound output ranged from 45 to 50 dBA.

However, by the firm’s own estimation, its findings were flawed.

The prior year, David M. and George F. Hessler wrote an article, “Basline Environmental Sound Levels for Wind Turbine Projects” that noted:

“Insect noise during summertime surveys frequently causes a dramatic increase in recorded A-weighted sound levels relative to what might be measured in the wintertime – a situation that might easily lead to a design background level that is not valid during quieter times.”

Schomer & Associates’ Paul Schomer noted this flaw in his own background sound measurement assessment in 2009, which he conducted on behalf of the Wind Power Ethics Group. WPEG remains opposed to the BP project.

Schomer found that residual sound levels averaged 24.6 dBA at night, 30.7 dBA for evenings and 35.5 dBA during the daytime.

“In contrast to Hessler’s BP study, the current study was designed to avoid insect noise by scheduling the survey period prior to the emergency of adult fall crickets and cicadas,” Schomer wrote in his report. “The results in this report are more aligned with Hessler’s journal recommendation to seek the lowest sound level that is consistently present.”

The disagreement between Hessler and Schomer has real consequences for the viability of this project. 

The state Department of Environment Conservation published a guidance document, “Policy Assessing and Mitigating Noise Impacts” in 2001. It said that an increase in the ambient sound of 6 dBA or less was “unlikely to constitute an adverse community impact.” However, sound pressure greater than 6 dBA would require both further study and possible mitigation, which would be costly to the developer.

It could also derail the project. Jim Madden, the former project manager for the wind project here, said in a 2010 letter that a project with a noise limit at 42 dBA was not economically feasible. Therefore, it was in Hessler Associates’ self-interest to report findings that would allow the project to stay within the DEC’s guidelines.

To Hessler Associates’ credit, the firm acknowledged the impact of insect noise on its findings and did a re-assessment during the winter of 2009. This time, it found the lowest residual background level to be 37 dBA and concluded that the “mean, long-term project sound level will comply with the NYSDEC guidelines at all residences, whether participating or not.”

The firm’s findings were still markedly different from Schomer’s assessment, with Cape Vincent residents – both those participating in the wind project as well as non-participating landowners – caught in the middle.

Hessler’s findings were already found to be in error once. Schomer also identified multiple potential issues with Hessler’s assessment, including the firm picking sites that were artificially noisy because of nearby construction or road traffic.

Unsurprisingly, BP has accepted Hessler Associates’ findings as the only legitimate results. Yet, if the firm erred again, going forward with the project could have serious consequences for the “safety, health and welfare of the public” – as the spinning of turbines would cause increases in noise that would undoubtedly exceed the DEC’s own guidelines, without requiring BP to mitigate that problem.

If Schomer erred – and it is my personal, albeit amateur, opinion that his assessment was performed correctly – but the results were accepted, then the “safety, health and welfare of the public” would remain unchanged from what it is today. BP would likely have to create a small project, or abandon its plans altogether.

I hope you’ve found this as interesting – and important to our future – as I have. I’ve included Hessler Associates’ two reports on behalf of BP, its 2006 journal article, the Schomer report for Wind Power Ethics Group and Madden’s 2010 letter for your further reading.

If you’d like to discuss this further – or I can be of help in the future – please do not hesitate to contact me   
Sincerely yours,

John L. Byrne III


 The Documents listed below that Mr. Byrne sent to the PSC can be accessed at this link

        Schoomer Report.pdf

         FEB 2011-App-H-Background-Hessler-Cape-Vincent.pdf
2007 Hessler sound report on Cape Vincent.pdf

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