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Wind project clears hurdle

FREEDOM – The Planning Board on Thursday cleared the way for a plan to erect three electricity-generating windmills on Beaver Ridge.

After deliberating more than six hours, the board, by a 5-1 margin, approved Competitive Energy Solutions’ application to build the turbines, each of which will reach nearly 400 feet into the air.

The turbines will produce up to 1.5 megawatts, enough electricity for approximately 2,000 homes.

“We’ve been working toward this for over eight months,” said Andy Price, project manager for Competitive Energy Solutions. “It’s nice they finally reached a decision. We respected it’s a time intensive process and they had to work through it methodically.”

Prentice Grassi, who questioned the validity of a sound study that determined none of the turbines would eclipse the maximum 55 decibels mandated in the ordinance, was the only board member to vote against the application.

Just minutes after learning of the board’s decision, Steve Bennett, one of the project’s most vocal opponents, promised to appeal.

“I’ve tried to be open and honest throughout this whole process,” Bennett said. “I’m not going to run away.”

For now at least, the decision clears the path for Competitive Energy Solutions to begin securing funding for the estimated $10 million project. It will likely be more than a year before the turbines are ready for installation, Price said.

The turbines are destined for property owned by Ron Price, with whom Competitive Energy Solutions has a long-term lease.

The only condition attached to the approval is that Competitive Energy Solutions return to the Planning Board with an engineer’s study on how hauling the large turbines might damage public roads or infrastructure. The company must provide the town with a bond to cover the potential damages.

The project has been a lightning rod in the community since the application was first submitted in March. Though voters favored the project by a 56-25 margin in a non-binding vote in June, and 200 residents signed a petition supporting the windmills in May, abutters such as Bennett believe the turbines will be a safety hazard, a nuisance and lower their property values.

“The Planning Board worked hard on this whole thing,” said Nancy Bailey-Farrar, the board’s chairwoman. “It was our first commercial review and it was a very long, stressful process for all of us, but we feel we represented the town well and did the best job that we could.”

But Bennett is not so sure. During Thursday’s meeting, board members debated whether to allow Competitive Energy Solutions to install any model turbine or limit the company to the two models cited in the sound study. Town attorney Bill Kelley suggested limiting the company to the two models in the report, but Richard Silkman, a partner for Competitive Energy Solutions, said the provision would kill the project.

Instead, Silkman argued the board should set parameters for Competitive Energy Solutions to meet and allow the company to use any equipment that meets those standards. The board eventually agreed.

Bennett questioned how the board could be sure the turbines will fall within the noise ordinance without knowing the equipment.

“They’ve appeared to have their minds made up since the beginning,” Bennett said.

Any appeal must be filed within 30 days, said Bill Pickford, the Planning Board’s vice chairman. The appeals board then has 45 days to hold a public hearing and then must make a decision within 35 days.

Once the appeals board has made its decision abutters have 45 days to appeal to Superior Court.

“They have to appeal on specific items,” Pickford said. “They can’t just appeal the whole thing.”

Andy Price believes it will be difficult to find grounds on which to appeal.

“I don’t think they have much chance of winning on an appeal, so I might question why they would appeal,” Price said.

Attorney Ed Bearor, who is working for the landowners who oppose the project, will continue to work with the group, Bennett said.

“We plan to appeal,” he said. “‘We’ is quite a few people that abut this project.”

Craig Crosby 861-9253

ccrosby@centralmaine.com

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