THE Minister responsible for the operation of wind farms in Victoria, Lily D’Ambrosio, the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change flew into a storm of concern last Tuesday about the noise emanating from the Bald Hills Wind Farm.
Visiting South Gippsland to support an announcement that the Andrews Government would continue with its indefinite ban on fracking, Ms D’Ambrosio said she was aware of the report by James C Smith and Associates which found that the turbines were causing a nuisance to nearby neighbours.
Asked by the Sentinel-Times to say what she thought the council should do now they had the report she suggested they refer it to the EPA.
“If he has presented that report to the council, the council commissioned the report. I’m happy to have a look at that report and perhaps refer it to the EPA and maybe that’s a matter he needs to consider, or the council who owns the report now,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.
“I would invite him to or suggest that the council refers it to the EPA.”
Ms D’Ambrosio said that if there were genuine issues, that there were avenues through the planning process to address those issues.
But instead of focusing on the nuisance complaints, Ms D’Ambrosio chose to consider the possible health impacts which are not the focus of the neighbours’ complaints.
“I think that there have been many inquiries undertaken by the Federal Parliament, by commissioners and a whole range of eminent scientific bodies that are world renowned that have all concluded the same thing. The science is the science you’ve just got to move on. That’s the fact of the matter.
“People are welcome to undertake their own studies into the matter but as I have said, there’s been no link (to health problems) found in any of these eminent studies. Sometimes you’ve just got to accept what the science is telling you.
“The facility received approval on planning grounds and I’m not going to speak on behalf of the Minister for Planning. But those decisions were made with all of the considerations. They were assessed, and they were found to be compliant with all the planning laws that are in place. But “I’m not going to speak on behalf of the planning minister and I would invite you to refer to him.”
Shire CEO Tim Tamlin was also asked for his views:
Q. The report is out, what are you going to do about it now?
A. I don’t know. Because we are still working our way through it. We’ve given it to the wind farm to comment. We will be, once we get the wind farm’s comments, be providing them to DST Legal so that they can make comment and get a balance from the parties and what they think about it. And then from there we’ll need to have a sit down and good think about where we go from there.
Q. You were saying it would have been better if this could have been sorted out in the planning stages and also that there’s conflict between two acts of State Parliament, the Victorian Planning and Environment Act and the Public Health and Wellbeing Act?
A. The conflict is you’ve got a piece of legislation which says the Bald Hills Wind Farm is compliant with operating conditions and all that but obviously if you’ve got a planning and environment act it should not be a detriment to anything around it. And then if someone raises a complaint under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act and Mr Smith has gone yes, there might be a nuisance there. But you must understand it’s not Mr Smith’s decision to say there is a nuisance there because he can’t determine that there is a nuisance there. Only council can determine that; the council itself, me under delegated authority from the council or another officer with delegated authority.
He’s only said there appears to be a nuisance. I’ve witnessed things that constitute a nuisance but it’s up to the council to actually determine that. That’s what we need to do. Get the feedback from the parties and sit down and say ok if we do determine that there is a nuisance then what? Keeping in mind that we might be talking about a nuisance like where there’s someone playing their stereo too loud in their backyard and it’s been on for a few weeks and it’s annoying the neighbours or there’s been a barking dog that’s what we’re normally dealing with not wind farms.
Cr McEwen critical of Smith report
ST Legal, is concerned the South Gippsland Shire Council is trying to back away from the investigation it commissioned into the wind farm noise complaints.
Last week the shire selectively distributed the report by independent public health expert, James C. Smith and Associates, in which he acknowledged noise levels were both “detrimental and unreasonable”.
The shire has offered the operators of the wind farm 14 days to respond and has backed away from tabling the report at next Wednesday’s council meeting.
On Thursday this week, after discussing the report extensively with his colleagues, South Gippsland Shire Councillor Andrew McEwen criticised the $33,000 Smith report, alleging that it was poorly written while also querying the data and methods used.
But Ms Tannock said the message in the report is clear, that “the noise is adversely impacting on the personal comfort and wellbeing of individuals”, according to Mr Smith and the shire should adopt it.
“We have proceedings on foot, with a Supreme Court hearing date set for November 26 and until the shire makes a decision, they have not complied with the court order of August 29, that they properly investigate the noise complaints under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act.”
Ms Tannock said her clients also took issue with the statements made by the shire following the release of the report.
“Ultimately,” said the shire CEO Tim Tamlin this week, “it will be up to the council to decide if there is a nuisance or not,”
Mr Tamlin said James C. Smith and Associates were not the delegated authority to make such a determination under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act, which might be made by the elected council, by Mr Tamlin himself under delegated authority or some other officer of the council under delegated authority.
But, as Mr Tamlin revealed this week, the matter will not be going to the next meeting of council on Wednesday, September 26 for a decision as first indicated.
When the report will be tabled at council, and a decision made on whether the turbines are noisy enough to cause a nuisance for the neighbours living nearby, officially at least, is anyone’s guess.