Unable to give definitive answers to abutters’ specific questions about a proposed wind turbine project, Andy Price asked nervous landowners at Monday night’s planning board public hearing to trust him.
“Whatever obstacles there are, I’m sure we can overcome them,” said Price, who represents Portland-based Competitive Energy Services LLC, the company that hopes to erect the three nearly 400-foot wind turbines on Beaver Ridge.
But Price’s assurance did little to appease abutter Steve Bennett.
“I would think somebody wanting to make a proposal of this magnitude would have done more homework than you have done,” Bennett said. “The people that live in this neighborhood deserve an answer to these questions.”
The project has been a lightning rod in the community nearly since it was first proposed in March. About 30 people, including abutters and other residents, crowded into the basement of the Freedom Congregational Church for the hearing, which was still going strong after more than two hours.
The three 260-foot towers, which would be 390 feet tall with the addition of 130-foot blades, would produce up to 10 million kilowatt hours each year; enough to power up to 2,000 homes. Competitive Energy Services has a long-term lease with the owners of the Beaver Ridge site, Ronald and Susan Price, who own Craneland Farm, a longtime dairy farm.
The couple have said the wind turbines are a way to preserve their farm. Andy Price echoed those comments last night. In comments that abutters’ attorney Ed Bearor would later call a “thinly veiled threat,” Price speculated that if the wind farm was not approved the site would likely be used for less desirable development.
“The choice is not wind turbines or farm land,” he said.
In his opening comments, Price said he grew up in nearby Montville and described himself as a “determined environmentalist.” The Beaver Ridge project is the model for projects that are needed to stave off global warming and reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, Price said.
“In my opinion, this is the direction we need to turn to as a nation,” he said.
Much of the evening was devoted to answering questions posed by abutters, the only residents with standing to add comments into the official record that the planning board will use to determine whether to approve Competitive Energy Services’ application, said town attorney Bill Kelley.
Erin Bennett-Wade fired the first shot with an attempt to have Kim Holmes removed from the board on the grounds of bias. Bennett-Wade recounted six instances in which she alleged Holmes spoke glowingly about the proposed project or specifically violated the town ordinance by discussing the process with planning board members outside of a regular meeting. Bennett-Wade recalled one instance when Holmes, Ronald Price, Andy Price and others were discussing the turbine project in the parking lot following a meeting.
“It’s always interesting to see the mini-meetings after the meeting,” Bennett-Wade recalled planning board vice chairman Bill Pickford saying to her. “It’s best to stay out of those.”
“These comments during the meeting and after clearly show bias on her part,” Bennett-Wade said.
Holmes, who denied discussing the project outside of regular meetings, acknowledged her support for wind power, but maintained she could make a fair decision based on the evidence.
The board voted 4-0 to keep Holmes in her seat.
Bearor, the abutters’ attorney, peppered Andy Price with questions about the road, storm-water runoff and a report Price submitted in which an MIT professor assured the noise would not exceed the 45-55 decibel level spelled out in the ordinance.
Price could offer few specifics, however, including exactly which turbines the company would use, what the company was doing to protect the natural scenic beauty of the area, which is mandated in the ordinance, or why Anthony Rogers, who produced the sound report, never visited the site. Neither could Price assure abutters that Sibley Road, which will be used to access the site, would not need to be widened, that trees would not have to be cut or that utility service wires feeding homes would not have to be removed.
“It’s your burden of proof and I haven’t seen anything that talks about this road and how it’s going to be constructed,” Bearor said.
By Craig Crosby
Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel
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