After months of discussions and hearings, the Freedom Planning Board last Thursday night gave conditional final approval to Competitive Energy Services (CES) to install three nearly 400-foot-tall wind turbines on Beaver Ridge.
But before that happened just before 10:50 p.m., the project came as close as it has to going down the tubes.
When the discussion turned to performance standards, attorney Bill Kelly, who was hired to guide the planning board through the review, said the sound study was based on two specific models so it would be “problematic” if a different model was used. He suggested that would require CES to file an amended application.
“I thought those were two examples,” said board member Prentice Grassi.
“We may not be able to get them,” added Andy Price of CES.
Board member Bill Pickford said all the data before the board was based on those two models. “If it’s other than those two, you will need to amend the application,” Pickford said.
Richard Silkman of CES said that didn’t make sense. He said the requirement is that they meet the standards. He said if the board was permitting a supermarket, it wouldn’t specify the specific model of condenser that needed to be used, for example. “We have the standards to meet. If we don’t, it’ll be shut down.” He said it wasn’t the model that mattered in the noise study but the noise characteristics.
Freedom Code Enforcement Officer Jay Guber said the applicants have always said they weren’t sure what model or manufacturer would be used. “The guideline says what they had to meet. They meet it or they’ll be shut down.”
“They won’t be shut down, they’ll be fined,” responded a woman in the audience.
“We said we’d be installing wind turbines similar to these,” said Price.
“Facts matter,” said Kelly. He said this permit isn’t for a supermarket air conditioner.
“It’s a structure, just like a supermarket,” said Silkman. “We’re going to meet the ordinance, we have to.”
“I don’t want the decision overturned,” said Pickford. He suggested the board put in language that if the turbine is not one of the two specified that CES show the board the new turbine meets the specs or is better.
“What we do is under a microscope,” agreed board member Lillian Phillips.
“You’re asking us to submit a new application?” asked Price.
“Show the same kind of specifications,” said Pickford.
“We’ll never get an acceptable price if you say we have to go with one of those two models. It’s a nonstarter,” said Silkman, adding if the board was going to do that they might as well quit immediately.
“We’re not saying you have to use a specific model,” said board chairman Nancy Bailey-Farrar.
“Stay within the parameters,” said Guber.
Kelly asked what if the turbines turned out to be 700 feet high, which might raise safety issues that the abutters hadn’t gotten to raise. “Plans have to be very specific before approval,” he said.
Silkman replied, “We’re willing to live with the tower height. It’s the model name on the turbine. We’re going to meet the noise ordinance. We can’t be held to a manufacturer’s name. Everything else is OK.”
Eventually the board agreed the model of the turbine can be changed if it continues to meet the findings of the planning board.
The board then discussed which performance standards it needed to review and which were enforcement issues for the CEO to look at after construction.
“As long as we use a turbine that meets industry standards, we will meet the performance standards,” said Price.
The board voted unanimously that the performance standards in one section of the ordinance fell under the jurisdiction of the CEO.
As they reviewed some others, the board found:
“¢ there was talk about but no evidence presented that the project will lower adjacent property values or have a substantial detrimental effect because the project will create no waste, no emissions, limited traffic, no glare, no fumes, no smoke, no dust, no odors and meets the sound standards and has community-friendly lighting; and
“¢ the project developers to the maximum extent possible have protected the natural beauty and aesthetics of the area by using non-glare paint, using a single-pole structure, keeping the land around the wind turbines as farmland, having minimal lighting and signage, using a minimal footprint and running the wires underground. Nonetheless, board member Drew Fales said he thinks the wind turbines will “be ugly.”
As for requiring a performance bond, the issue that ended the previous board meeting, Silkman said while CES believes a bond may be required at some point, he said it is not time yet and the company wouldn’t even know how much to make it for.
Pickford suggested the board might want to think about requiring a bond for decommissioning.
Guber said Troy has a cell tower ordinance that requires the filing of a bond for decommissioning but he said that’s a different situation.
Pickford questioned how the board would know how much of a bond to require.
Kelly said it’s more typical for a community to require a bond for any impact on the public infrastructure–to fix anything that got broken or that the town might have to take over to finish. He said the bond is usually to ensure that the infrastructure is built to the right specifications. “What about this project might have a public impact?” Kelly asked.
He suggested the answer might be roads. He suggested there might need to be a review of the access route to be taken to bring in the turbines and equipment. “There may be damage. There may be widening of a road,” he said.
Kelly said the board could approve the project with a condition that they come back before any equipment is brought in and put up a bond then.
He said the ordinance says a plan for decommissioning has to be filed but it doesn’t mention the posting of a bond for that.
Grassi said the ordinance also doesn’t mention a bond with reference to possible denigration of the roads.
“It says the applicant should be responsible for repair of damage to the roads,” replied Kelly.
Guber said there is only one town-maintained road that would be involved and the rest are state roads.
“You have to consider state roads as well,” said Kelly.
Pickford agreed that the ordinance says damage to public roads.
Grassi said Troy requires a bond for decommissioning of cell towers.
“I don’t know if their wording is the same,” said Pickford. “It would be a long-lasting bond. How long do these things last?” he asked.
“Thirty years,” said Price.
“It would be a long-lasting bond,” repeated Pickford.
Grassi then made a motion that the board interpret the ordinance to require a bond for the project as it applies to public infrastructure.
“Do we need a motion to say how we interpret it?” asked Pickford.
“It’s not a bad idea,” said Kelly, and the motion passed unanimously.
Eventually the board agreed that section of the ordinance would be satisfied with the following conditions:
“¢ the bond obligation applies only to public roads and drainage systems;
“¢ the applicant will come back to the board with an engineering study of the transportation route through Freedom;
“¢ the engineering study will include a cost estimate of any potential damage to the roads or public infrastructure;
“¢ CES will provide a bond or other performance guarantee as determined by the board; and
“¢ no site work or transportation of equipment to the site will take place until CES comes back before the board.
The vote to grant final conditional approval for the project was 5-1 with Grassi opposed. He said his opposition was based on its concerns about the noise study that was presented to the board.
At its next meeting, Jan. 4, the board will sign off on the written findings of fact for the project as put together by Kelly.
Selectman Steve Bennett, who is a major abutter of the proposed project, indicated recently that he plans to appeal the approval at least to the Freedom Zoning Board of Appeals.
By Toni Mailloux
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