Residents renew complaints about MEC noise

Lyn Durant

MARQUETTE — Several residents who have lodged written complaints about noise and vibration from the Marquette Board of Light and Power’s Marquette Energy Center along Wright Street reiterated their concerns during a regular meeting of the Marquette Township Board on Tuesday.

June 11 was the first official day the MEC — which consists of three 18-megawatt reciprocating internal combustion engines that are powered by natural gas or fuel oil — was used as the BLP’s primary source of power after the closure of the coal-fired Shiras Steam Plant.

Pete Thorrington, who lives on the bluff above the Wright Street facility, spoke extensively to the township board about how he felt the noise and vibration affect the quality of life at and around his residence.

“I can’t live in my house, it runs from 7 o’clock in the morning until 10 o’clock at night and all we hear is the thumping and the whining, and I am not so sure it is coming through the air,” Thorrington said. “I think that most of it is coming through the ground. It’s more vibration than it is noise.”

Thorrington said he hoped the township board could help to come up with a solution to the problem, which he said had spilled over to other areas of the township and were affecting his property values.

“I had a real estate agent at my house an hour ago,” Thorrington said. “He said ‘it would have a definite affect on selling your home.’ I can’t even sell the … place, and that was an hour ago. Do we have to make a class-action lawsuit to get after these people?”

Township Manager Randy Girard said at this point the township has no legal grounds to file suit against the BLP or the engine manufacturer.

“We haven’t been damaged, the township itself hasn’t been damaged,” he said. “The residents have, but the township itself hasn’t.”

Township Supervisor Lyn Durant agreed.

“There are people who have suggested that a class action suit is going to have to be what happens. We are happy to be the intermediary to voice your concerns or to help pass (information) on to you,” Durant said. “This is part of our health, safety and welfare that we are responsible for, but we have no authority, we have nothing. There is nothing we can do other than be that conduit for you to help get information back and forth.”

Girard confirmed that two new individuals had come forward to complain about noise pollution and that the information from all 17 complaints had been forwarded to BLP Executive Director Tom Carpenter.

“We have supplied to the BLP every one of the complaints that we have received, multiples from some,” Girard said. “Those have all been submitted to Mr. Carpenter, and they know what the issues have been. This is expanding. We now have at least one resident from Granite (Street) that is raising issues, and a couple of others around. It’s not just you folks up on the hill.”

Carpenter said in an email on Wednesday that the BLP had just received a proposed plan from Wartsila, the manufacturer of the engines, consisting of a number of acoustical dampening devices that would be installed in the engine hall.

“The goal with these devices is to mitigate the level of the sound wave that appears to be at the problem frequency some residents are experiencing,” Carpenter said. “This was tested in a lab over in Italy and appears it could be helpful here.”

He said the next step was to bring the original building designer and sound engineer to evaluate that plan against the building and sound mitigation plan that was used during construction of the facility.

“They were here last week and we hope to have results from that shortly,” Carpenter said. “If everything checks out in that regard, we will determine a path forward with the plan given to us from Wartsila.”

Girard expressed concern during the meeting that a June 16 Mining Journal article on the subject did not mention vibration complaints from residents.

“I was a little bit surprised that the last article in the paper talked about some noise attenuating devices being hung from the ceiling and nothing about vibration, which is a concern that the board has had from day one,” Girard said.

Carpenter said he is unaware of any vibrations being transmitted from the site.

“The generators are on separate foundations and sitting on spring packs that dampen any vibrations,” Carpenter said.

Township resident Tom Zorza called the situation for area home owners “rough.”

“We get all the noise up on the hill. I don’t know how bad it is down below the hill, but we are bad up there. We haven’t had any communications with BLP other than them coming up and taking some readings. Other than that, you would think they could send us a letter in the mail or something saying ‘We are working on this.’ I am just here to let you know that we have a problem,” Zorza told the board. “That monster down there is not going to go away, and what are we going to do?”

Carpenter said the BLP and Wartsila are taking a methodical approach to the problem.

“We want to make sure that anything we do is done correctly and has a positive outcome,” Carpenter said. “As this is a very unique issue there are no ‘out of the box’ solutions that we could just purchase and install. Therefore, it does take some time to develop these plans as we are relying on outside consultants and manufacturers to help us design a custom solution.”


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