A scheduled public hearing before the Freedom Planning Board on a proposed $12 million wind turbine project was canceled before it could begin Thursday for procedural reasons. The hearing on the controversial project to site three 1.5 KW turbines on 262-foot towers at Beaver Ridge has been rescheduled for Monday, Nov. 20, at 6:30 p.m., tentatively in the basement of the Freedom Congregational Church. The alternative location will be at the town offices next door.
Bill Pickford opened the board meeting at the town offices by noting that while members have spoken with “a lot of different lawyers” since Nov. 1 when selectmen voted 2-0-1 (Selectman Steve Bennett abstaining) to authorize town funding so they could hire legal representation. “We do not have that tonight,” he said.
Pickford did, however, report he contacted Maine Municipal Association (MMA). He proceeded to read from a communication he had received that afternoon from an unnamed MMA attorney advising the members if they were without “benefit of onsite legal counsel” the hearing should at least be limited to comment from the public and from representatives from Competitive Energy Services (CES) of Portland, the project applicant. The statement urged board members to “try to avoid any comments, deliberations or decision-making”¦with respect to substantive matters including but not limited to interpretations.”
But it was examination of language in the commercial development review ordinance adopted at a special town meeting Aug. 7 that led the board not to proceed with its third hearing on the wind turbine project. Pickford read from the ordinance that abutters to a property under consideration for a project within the jurisdiction of the ordinance must be notified of an impending hearing at least seven days in advance. When asked by Pickford, Bennett, who owns a 23-acre parcel adjacent to the Beaver Ridge site, confirmed he hadn’t been formally notified.
Bennett has been prominent in opposing the proposed turbine installations in the hayfield of farmer Ron Price, claiming they would have a major nuisance effect that would lower nearby property values. Although he recused himself from voting whether the planning board should get funding for legal counsel, he spoke against the allocation as an unreasonable use of taxpayer money.
Bennett also led a moratorium effort defeated on a 79″“44 vote at an Aug. 31 special town meeting that would have submitted the new development review ordinance to reconsideration by a special town commission. Opponents of the Beaver Ridge project felt the ordinance failed to provide adequate protections. More recently, Bennett has been part of a group of project opponents who hired Bangor attorney Ed Bearor to represent their interests.
“I don’t dare go ahead with the hearing,” Pickford said. The other five board members present didn’t hesitate to agree with this assessment and voted to reschedule. Pickford said after the short meeting it was an oversight on the part of the board that abutters were not notified but under the circumstances with so controversial a project under consideration this was the prudent thing to do.
The board members also voted to cancel their regularly scheduled Nov. 15 meeting but they confirmed they will meet Nov. 29 for a previously scheduled special session at which time they will review CES’s application. “That will be the meeting when we go over all of this material, deliberate on it, perhaps make a decision,” Pickford said. “It could happen on that date.”
By Peter Taber
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