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HARVARD – Laura McGovern, co-owner of Dunroven Farm on Mill Road, lives and works in a neighborhood that’s been in the thick of a battle to alleviate noise emissions from Evergreen Solar, a solar panel manufacturing plant across the tracks on Devens.

Since neighbors first started airing their grievances in public last year, the company has proposed and acted on a number of solutions aimed at fixing the noise problem, while the Devens Enterprise Commission that permitted the plant, oversees the mitigation process.

At the Dec.1 selectmen’s meeting, McGovern said her property rights are at risk.
Specifically, she was worried that DEC was about to establish long-term monitoring protocols to permanently establish the locus for noise measurements on her property, identified as a “receptor” site. But the monitor installed last summer was supposed to be at the property line. Instead, it’s 190 feet back, she said.

“We didn’t know as much then about sound technology,” she said, referring to herself and Dunroven co-owner Jay Wallace. Nor were they aware of how far the monitor was from their boundary line. “We paid to have our land surveyed,” she said.

Wallace later said DEC should have done that in the first place.

Now, McGovern wants the DEC to either move the device or alter monitoring protocols to adjust for the set-back. If not, McGovern said that amounts to land-taking.

“I’m concerned that DEC won’t amend this protocol,” she said, despite requests to do so. “Basically, it would be taking my land for Evergreen to make more noise,” she said.

Wallace agreed. “The noise level should be no more than five decibels above ambient at the property line,” he said. It’s like taking the temperature of steaming hot water as it comes out the tap versus the end of the stream, where it’s cooler, he explained. Using a sports analogy, he said what DEC is doing is like “moving the goal posts back,” on a playing field, giving the advantage to Evergreen.

To begin with, all parties agreed to put monitors close to the facility and at receptor sites, Wallace said. Data is calculated over that “delta” using a formula that subtracts and adjusts, because sound diminishes as it gets further from the source, he said.

But the farm’s owners say the DEC protocols put too much weight on readings from monitors behind the plant and alarms set to go off at specific sound levels. The issue for neighbors is the level of sound emissions when they reach their property.

McGovern told the selectmen that neighbors are not out to shut Evergreen down. “We’re just looking for compliance,” she said. That is, to monitor noise levels at the property line, “not 190 feet in or a third of the distance from my house.”

She reminded the selectmen that the issue was on the Dec. 3 DEC meeting agenda. She was also looking to enlist their support. If the commission votes for the protocols without amending them, abutters may appeal, she said. “I feel strongly that it would be taking my property rights away.”

Following their own protocol, the selectmen thanked McGovern for coming but did not respond to her entreaty. Chairman Ron Ricci said he would attend the DEC meeting.

He later said DEC passed the protocols with no amendments.

Wallace confirmed that outcome. Asked what comes next, he said, “I don’t know.”