By Andy Kekacs
FREEDOM (Aug 30): A proposed wind farm on Beaver Ridge continues to fuel vigorous debate.
Freedom residents are preparing to vote Thursday, Aug. 31, on a moratorium that would prohibit local officials from granting permits for the project for 180 days, with extensions possible if “the problem giving rise to the need for this moratorium still exists and reasonable progress is being made to alleviate [it].”
The special town meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Dirigo Grange Hall. The warrant article also calls for the creation of a “Special Ordinance Committee” to study Freedom’s recently enacted Commercial Development Review Ordinance – particularly the section on wind energy facilities – and recommend amendments.
The warrant states the existing ordinance “is inadequate to prevent serious public harm from Wind Energy Facilities or Wind Energy Conversion Systems that might occur within the town of Freedom.”
Selectman Steve Bennett, who drafted the moratorium, said there are a number of deficiencies in the wind power section of the ordinance. Among other things, no survey is required to determine precise lot lines, Bennett said, and there are no mandatory setbacks of the wind turbines from the property boundaries. The noise restrictions are unenforceable, he said.
Freedom voters approved the 46-page ordinance three weeks ago during another special town meeting. The catalyst for the ordinance was the proposal to build three wind turbines on Beaver Ridge, but it applies to a wide range of other commercial and industrial activities in town.
In a meeting of the Freedom Board of Selectmen on Thursday, Aug. 24, Bennett said the wind turbine section of the ordinance was largely dictated by Competitive Energy Systems of Portland, the company that wants to develop Beaver Ridge.
“CES “¦ basically informed the Planning Board of what they wanted in the ordinance that governs their application,” Bennett said last week. “That’s as blatant an example of a board catering to the wishes of a developer as I can imagine.”
Bennett said he spoke with two members of the Planning Board who were not aware of last-minute changes in the ordinance that allow the board to waive development standards for any reason the board deems valid.
“This change was not brought to the attention of the whole board and was not discussed,” said Bennett. “”¦ I don’t know why this was left out of the discussion by Bill [Pickford, co-chairman of the Planning Board], but a change that significant should have been discussed.”
Bennett then proposed the moratorium. He won the support of Selectwoman Lynn Hadyniak, which was sufficient to bring the matter to a special town meeting. But Selectman Timothy Biggs was opposed.
“I voted against it,” said Biggs. “I felt the people had spoken [at the town meeting in early August].”
Biggs noted that Bennett owns a lot next to the proposed wind power facility. “I think Steve has a material interest in [the fate of the wind power project], and that may influence his opposition to it.”
While Biggs will not vote for the moratorium, he also will not fight it tooth-and-nail. “Out of respect for Steve and all the work he does for our town, I’m willing to let the moratorium go,” he said.
Biggs is concerned, however, that the delay could derail the wind project. “I’m sure they have to line up investors and order the windmills,” he said.
Bennett acknowledged he has a personal interest in what happens on Beaver Ridge. The proposed wind farm would be located on a 76-acre, U-shaped parcel owned by Ron Price. Bennett said that piece surrounds a 23-acre lot he bought a number of years ago.
Bennett said he had planned to build a retirement home there, but the wind farm would make the lot worthless. There are 13 other abutters to the proposed wind farm, he said.
“I don’t believe the Planning Board worked in good faith with the abutters,” Bennett said. “You always consider the impact on the abutters first.”
Read Brugger, who also owns property near the proposed wind farm and is a strong supporter of it, said Bennett is just plain wrong about the crafting of the wind farm section of the new ordinance. The Planning Board spent four months looking at the issue and drafted the ordinance during a series of public meetings, he said.
“I think the process worked,” said Brugger.
During the process, the Planning Board invited the public to offer proposed language for the ordinance. Brugger said he submitted language largely taken from a model wind farm ordinance developed by the state planning office in New York.
CES also submitted language, he said, but the Planning Board took Brugger’s stricter requirements in two out of three instances.
“It’s important that the process not be taken over and abused,” he said. “We just voted on this three weeks ago. We have an ordinance in place; we should let CES bring in their project and see if they can meet our “¦ requirements. That is not a given.”
CES has been awaiting the outcome of the townwide planning process before deciding whether to proceed. The company had already received one vote of confidence from local residents, who supported the project 56-25 in a nonbinding vote June 7.
The three windmills on Beaver Ridge would stand 250 feet high with the blades measuring 130 feet in length, for an overall height of just under 400 feet.
The turbines would generate enough energy to power 2,000 Maine households at a cost slightly higher than the CMP standard rate per kilowatt-hour.
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