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Final public hearing to be held on wind project

FREEDOM (Nov 8): A controversial wind power project on Beaver Ridge will be the focus of a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, at the Town Office.

Competitive Energy Services of Portland has proposed to erect three wind turbines on Beaver Ridge to generate electricity for sale throughout New England.

According to CES, 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.

If approved, construction of the $12 million project would begin in spring 2008. The wind turbines would be set atop three 262-foot towers. Each turbine would be spun by three blades measuring about 130 feet in length.

Noise has emerged as an important issue in the approval process. In the application on file at the Town Office, CES has included a report by professor Anthony L. Rogers of the Renewable Energy Lab at the University of Maine Amherst. Rogers studied the acoustical performance of two types of turbines that might be used in the project.

According to CES, Rogers concluded both models “would fully comply with the sound provisions of the ordinances adopted by Freedom.” Noise from the turbines would not exceed the ordinance thresholds at either the property boundary or any existing residences, he found.

Freedom voters have signaled strong approval for the project, but the sentiment is not universal. Selectman Steve Bennett and several of his relatives own property near the proposed site, and Bennett is a vocal opponent of the project.

The proposed wind farm would be located on a 76-acre parcel owned by Ron Price of Knox. The site surrounds a 23-acre lot Bennett bought a number of years ago.

The selectman has said he planned to build a retirement home there, but the wind farm would make the lot worthless. There are more than a dozen other abutters to the project.

Freedom residents supported the construction of the wind turbines in two previous votes. Aug. 31, residents voted 79-44 to turn down a moratorium (proposed by Bennett) that would have prevented town officials from approving the project until a new committee reviewed and suggested changes to a 46-page Commercial Development Review Ordinance that had been passed a few weeks earlier. The CES proposal was the catalyst for the ordinance that also applies to a wide range of other commercial and industrial activities in town.

The project also received the backing of residents, 56-25, in a nonbinding vote June 7.

The Freedom Planning Board has until early December to rule on the project. Planning Board member Bill Pickford appeared at a meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday, Nov. 1, to request money to hire an attorney to advise the board in the final stages of the approval process.

“If we don’t do things the right way and it goes to court, the decision could be overturned,” said Pickford, who said attorneys for the Maine Municipal Association recommended the town get outside legal advice.

The Planning Board deliberations are being closely watched by at least two parties who have the potential to take the appeal the final decision in court: CES and Bennett. The selectman has hired Bangor attorney Edmond Bearor to monitor the permit process.

Although he has acknowledged having a financial stake in the matter and is paying Bearor to represent him, Bennett said Nov. 1 that the Planning Board did not need a private attorney.

“Why do you need an attorney?” asked Bennett, when the services of lawyers at Maine Municipal Association are available for free. “”¦ MMA has a staff of attorneys who are specifically trained in municipal law.”

“If we do authorize a town attorney, we ought to put a cap on [the amount that would be paid],” added Bennett. “This isn’t the town of Camden.”

Selectpeople Lynn Hadyniak and Timothy Biggs disagreed. “I don’t know why we wouldn’t have an attorney,” said Biggs. “I wouldn’t go to a divorce [hearing] if my wife had an attorney and I didn’t.”

Hadyniak questioned whether MMA attorneys would be available to answer questions outside of business hours, for example if a question came up at the Nov. 9 public hearing.

Bennett, however, was adamant. “We pay MMA for advice, and it’s good advice “¦ You have free representation now; I don’t think it’s a good use of town taxes [to hire a private attorney.]”

The other selectpeople were unmoved. Hadyniak said the town had a total of $17,831 left in the 2006 budget for contracted services, consulting fees, software and related services.

“I am uncomfortable writing a blank check,” she said. “I would say that we make a motion to set aside $2,500 in legal fees to cover next week’s issue (the Nov. 9 Planning Board hearing) and represent the town of Freedom over the next 60 days.”

When it came to a vote, Hadyniak and Biggs favored the motion, while Bennett abstained.

The following night, the Planning Board met to discuss the schedule for reaching a decision on the CES application. The board must render a decision by Dec. 6, but prior commitments and the Thanksgiving holiday made it difficult to schedule meetings. In the end, the members decided to meet on two Wednesdays, Nov. 15 and 29, to discuss the application and draft their decision.

Some members were uncomfortable about scheduling the meetings Wednesdays, because the Board of Selectmen also meet that night. The Planning Board voted to delay the start of its meetings until 7 p.m. to give Bennett a chance to attend the deliberations.

Members clearly want a lawyer to be available for the final meetings on the wind project, but Pickford questioned whether the board needed legal representation at the Nov. 9 hearing.

“Maybe we don’t need an attorney for the public hearing,” he said, “[but] we can get him in on the deliberation process and putting it all down on a piece of paper. “¦ We want to avoid being thrown out on a procedural matter [if the decision is appealed].”

By Andy Kekacs
Copy Editor