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Sheffield wind: Therriens to appeal reappraisal denial

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Luann Therrien in the front yard of her home in Sheffield.   Photo by Tena Starr
Luann Therrien in the front yard of her home in Sheffield. Photo by Tena Starr

copyright the Chronicle October 8, 2014

by Tena Starr

SHEFFIELD — It was a spectacular Friday afternoon in October — blue sky, warm weather, and the wind rustling the leaves on the trees.

Beneath that sound, however, there was a low grinding noise in Steve and Luann Therrien’s front yard.

“It’s not something that goes on every day,” Ms. Therrien said. “But it’s been all day today and all day yesterday.”

Ms. Therrien and her husband live on New Duck Pond Road in Sheffield about three-quarters of a mile from the nearest of First Wind’s 16 turbines. They say they can’t stand the noise and want to move. Ideally, they’d like First Wind to buy them out. Short of that, they’d like to move “on their own steam,” as Ms. Therrien puts it.

Meanwhile, they asked the town of Sheffield to lower its assessment of their property, which is currently appraised at about $86,500. It includes 49 acres, well off the beaten path, and a homemade house that the town calls a camp. The noise from the big wind turbines is making the family sick, Ms. Therrien said, and the value of the property is less than what it was before they went up.

Last week the Board of Civil Authority voted on the Therriens’ request and ended up with a 2-2 tie, meaning that the appraisal will remain as is.

The tie basically means that the board did not make a decision so the appraisal stands, said Civil Board member Walter Smith. He said the Therriens can still appeal to the state.

Mr. Smith was one of the two board members who voted against lowering the property’s appraisal. Frankly, he said, he thinks it’s appraised more than fairly.

For one thing, the Therriens had the property on the market at $125,000, a figure considerably higher than the town’s appraisal, Mr. Smith said.

For another, it’s appraised for slightly less than comparable, and less desirable land that sold in the past year for around $1,400 an acre, he said.

Also, he said, the Therriens have not said what they think the property should be appraised at.

Mr. Smith said the Therriens presented the board with two cases, both in Chittenden County he believes, where there had been requests to lower assessments due to proximity to wind turbines. The properties were valued at far more than the Therriens’, he said, and were not exactly comparable situations.

“They were for properties that were a quarter million, $500,000 properties,” Mr. Smith said.

In those cases, he might understand a slight downward adjustment in the property’s appraised value if the view suddenly included wind turbines, he said.

But wind towers are not visible from the Therriens’, he said. “And when we went up there no one could hear them.”

Ken Vos, a civil board member who voted in favor of lowering the Therriens’ appraisal, said he’s been to the land three times to see if he could hear the noises the Therriens say they find so disturbing.

“The wind has to be from the southeast for them to get the sound that really disturbs them night and day,” Mr. Vos said. “That’s not really the prevailing direction of the wind.”

The first time he visited with other Civil Board members and didn’t hear a thing, he said.

The second time he heard noise “in a subtle way.”

“One is a whine that comes from the generators, and the other is a whoom, whoom, whoom. I heard four or five of those and then the wind changed. It wasn’t of an intensity that would really trouble you deeply.”

The third time Mr. Vos visited, he said he could clearly hear the generators “but not in a way that would drive me nuts.”

“In the six weeks or so that we were given to deliberate this, the wind was never in the right direction to witness what they’d been complaining about,” Mr. Vos said.

He said he voted in favor of dropping the property’s valuation, in part, because he looks at the matter as comparable to one involving civil law, which bears a lower standard of proof than criminal law.

Also, he said, cutting the property’s value by 10 percent would have amounted to about $130 a year, which would have cost roughly 40 cents for everyone who receives a tax bill.

And beyond that, Mr. Vos said, he thought it might be the thing to do simply as a way to encourage peace.

“We went through ten years of struggle in this town over this wind issue,” he said. “It was very divisive and contentious. The law ground its way through and the wind came in. Most of us accepted this as something inevitable.”

The Therriens live far closer to the wind turbines than anyone he knows of, Mr. Vos said, and their gripe is ongoing.

“It’s like a wound that’s healed, but there’s one little place that won’t heal,” he said.

He said he considers his vote as “tempering justice with compassion.”

Mr. Smith said he accepts that, under certain conditions, the Therriens do hear something.

So lowering their property assessment would not actually remedy anything if noise is the problem, he said.

“Regardless of what the town did, it wouldn’t change the situation they’re in,” Mr. Smith said.

And that, Ms. Therrien admits, is true.

She and her husband have lived on the New Duck Pond Road property full-time for 19 years and had planned to live there forever, she said. It’s been in the family since the mid to late 1970s.

But the noise from the wind turbines has made her and her husband so sick they have trouble sleeping, can’t enjoy the land, and can’t work anymore, she said. The couple has two small children, who they believe are also affected.

“You go to bed at night, and it just consumes you,” Ms. Therrien said. “It sounds like a truck that never makes it up the mountain.”

That’s one of the noises. Sometimes the turbines make a “whump whump” noise,” she said. In winter they can occasionally sound like thunder, although that doesn’t bother her much. It’s the steady grinding sound that’s made her life unbearable, she said.

The Therriens weren’t initially opposed to the wind project. Ms. Therrien said she thinks they signed a paper early on saying they were, but they didn’t follow up. They didn’t go to meetings, they didn’t join Ridge Protectors, the group so vehemently opposed to the towers, they weren’t politically active.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “We felt like everybody else: How bad could it be?”

Then the wind turbines started up. One very foggy day shortly thereafter the sound was intense, she said.

“We still didn’t understand what we were facing,” Ms. Therrien said. “But I’m no longer who I was three years ago. I hear the sound, but also the infrasound, which a lot of people just laugh at.”

These days, she said, she takes Prozac, an anti-depressant, and Trazadone, which helps her sleep. She says she can’t concentrate, doesn’t sleep much, and her husband has constant headaches. Neither of them work now, and they have applied for disability.

“We have doctors’ notes,” Ms. Therrien said.

They live on Reach Up. For people who formerly considered themselves self-reliant, “it’s a kick in the teeth,” Ms. Therrien said.

The nearest wind turbine is within a quarter mile of the house, she said, and five of them are within a mile.

Meanwhile, the Therriens say they have talked to everyone they can think of, with no results. There are people in state government who care, Ms. Therrien said, but say they can’t do anything about it.

The family would like $150,000 from First Wind. The money the Therriens want would cover not only the cost of the property but also moving expenses and what Ms. Therrien calls “three years of torture.”

They have been offered $45,000 for their house and two acres.

Ms. Therrien said they do plan to appeal the Board of Civil Authority’s decision to the state.

But they’re also hoping to move soon to a family owned lot in Derby where they want to put up a trailer, if they can find one that’s affordable.

contact Tena Starr at [email protected]

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