WUFT News

Biomass Plant Noise Levels Below Gainesville’s Ordinance, But Residents Are Still Unhappy

By on November 22nd, 2013
Biomass

Rochelle Alleyne / WUFT News

Some Alachua residents have been voicing complaints since August about the noise coming from the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center’s biomass plant.

They have attended city commission meetings both in Alachua and Gainesville, and are demanding an answer for the plant’s noise, which occurs at various times throughout the day.

The City of Gainesville voted to submit an offer of $400 million to buy the plant during an Oct. 17 city commission meeting. Those talks eventually failed.

GREC announced later in October its plans for installing noise-absorbing acoustic panels inside the plant’s stack, in partnership with Hessler Associates Inc. Energy Management Inc., one of the owners of the plant, said it has found the reason why the noise is occurring.

“What he (Hessler Associates Inc.) concluded about the noise is it’s the rapid air flow coming from the stack and creating a turbulence effect,” said Mark Rodgers, Energy Management Inc.’s communications director.

To gather more data and determine just how loud the plant was last month, WUFT News spoke to Alachua residents and collected sound readings using the iPhone app Decibel 10th.

Those readings, though consisting of a very small sample size, all came in under the city’s noise ordinance.

First was the neighborhood of Brooke Pointe, southwest of the plant. Resident Paula Welch described the sound coming from the plant as sometimes being similar to a jet engine.

“When I first heard it, it sounded like there were jets flying over,” Welch said. “It sounded like an airport. It’s loud, it dies down and then it comes back up again.”

Her neighbor, Suzanne Strickland, said the noise often disrupts her family.

“It’s really hard,” Strickland said. “My husband and I were trying to sit out in the backyard last weekend. It’s not like living out in the country anymore. It’s like living in town next to constant, loud traffic.”

WUFT News took a sound reading on Northwest 102nd Place in Brooke Pointe just before 5 p.m. one day in October. It was 58 to 59 decibels, the loudest of the six readings recorded and under the daytime 66-decibel commercial limit set by the City of Gainesville:

Next was Turkey Creek, where some say the noise has been the loudest. WUFT took four readings there over a three-day period. The lowest one was just after 5 p.m. on Northwest 61st Drive at 48 decibels, and the loudest was at 9:41 p.m. on Northwest 118th Place, which read slightly more than 55 decibels.

(Map help: The yellow markers contain locations, decibel readings and notes of six noise measurements near the biomass plant.)

Speaking as a Turkey Creek resident, Alachua City Commissioner Robert Wilford said the plant’s noise has taken a toll on people in the area, including his neighbor, a U.S. Army veteran who has done multiple tours in Afghanistan.

“One night, he and his wife indicated to me it sounded like helicopters to them,” Wilford said. ”Of course, a person who’s been in a war zone knows that’s very disturbing.”

Another of Wilford’s neighbors, Janis Youngblood, a retired Broward County teacher who has lived in Turkey Creek since 2009, said the plant has affected her health and forced her to take new medications.

“I’m now on a second blood pressure pill because my blood pressure hasn’t gone down,” Youngblood said. “That’s only within the last 3 weeks.”

After hearing consistent complaints about the noise, Rodgers hopes the panels will fix an issue that continues to be ongoing.

“We also want to be good neighbors,” Rodgers said. “So we’ve taken the feedback that we’ve received from the community very seriously, and we’re looking forward to installing this equipment. We’re optimistic that it’s going to result in a big improvement.”

The noise-absorbing panels, Rodgers said, will be installed sometime between early to mid-December.


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