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LAKEPORT, Calif. – The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday agreed to allocate $35,000 to go toward a study to track the source of noise emissions coming from The Geysers geothermal steamfield on Cobb.
Lake County Special Districts Manager Mark Dellinger asked the board to approve funding the study after the Anderson Springs Geothermal Mitigation Fund Committee reached unanimous consensus on the proposal at a recent meeting.
Dellinger said both Calpine and the Northern California Power Agency – or NCPA – which have plants at The Geysers have tried unsuccessfully to isolate the source of the noise, which has been occurring late at night for more than a year.
Calpine and NCPA also have agreed to provide matching funding if needed for the study, Dellinger said.
He said Calpine agreed to contract for the study but had concerns about the perception of impartiality if it managed the work alone.
Supervisor Jim Comstock said he was concerned that having the mitigation committee oversee the study, since the group only meets about once a month.
Dellinger said he was willing to coordinate the effort.
“I don’t necessarily need more work to do but this is extremely important,” he said, adding, “We have to solve this.”
Dellinger said the committee was happy to meet more often if necessary. Supervisor Denise Rushing said managing a project by committee may not be the best way.
Bruce Carlsen of Calpine was on hand for the meeting, indicating the company was supportive of the study.
“This has a lot of people in industry frustrated,” said Dellinger. He said he’s scratching his head over it as well.
NCPA representative Bob Young said the agency also wanted the study done. They’ve done their own noise surveys without making a final conclusion, and also have upgraded equipment.
Longtime Anderson Springs resident Meriel Medrano, who also is a member of the mitigation committee, is one of the area residents who has experienced the disconcerting noise firsthand since January of 2011.
“It’s two definite noises,” she said.
One of the noises sounds like a huge industry generator, the second like an airplane circling an airport, Medrano said.
Medrano said she started logging the sounds on Feb. 2, 2011, along with the temperatures to figure out “what in the world this thing was.”
She usually hears the sounds beginning at 6 p.m. and going until after midnight, coming from a westerly direction. It happens most days of the week, but not all.
In the winter time, when the nearby creek is roaring and it’s pouring down rain, she can stand outside and hear nothing. But in her house, under the same conditions, she hears the noise.
Medrano said her house sits high on a hill, and is built into a hillside. A nearby neighbor, who couldn’t attend the meeting, also experiences it and is logging when she hear the sounds, Medrano said.
“It’s just really a strange thing and we don’t know how to solve it,” said Medrano, asking the board for its help.
Medrano said the sound lasted all day last Sunday, Mother’s Day, beginning at 7 a.m. and continuing until midnight, but the previous day there had been no noise.
Board Chair Rob Brown asked Medrano if she was OK with Dellinger’s proposal. She said yes. “I don’t know what else to do.”
Joan Clay, chair of the mitigation committee, said she believes Medrano. While she can’t hear the sound at her own home, she said she’s heard it while visiting Medrano’s home.
She asked when the study would start. Dellinger said they would get it going as quickly as possible.
Comstock moved Dellinger’s recommendation to authorize the allocation as well as to authorize Calpine to procure the services because time is of the essence.
Dellinger told Lake County News following the meeting that he believes Medrano and the neighbors hearing the sound are genuinely suffering.
While he doesn’t think that drilling is responsible for the sound, he said that everything needs to be considered.
“Noise is not an easy thing to diagnose,” he said.
The noise appears to affect the people who live higher on the hillsides, Dellinger said.
It also isn’t always easy to predict when it may occur. He visited Medrano’s house and didn’t hear it, but then was told that after he left the sound started.
Calpine and NCPA have spent time and money to study the problem and improve equipment, Dellinger said.
One drilling rig in Bear Canyon that’s managed by NCPA had new sound blankets placed on it and noise complaints from other area residents ceased, but it offered no relief for Medrano and her neighbors, Dellinger said.