FREEDOM – The board of appeals has scheduled hearings on a proposed $10 million wind turbine project for next month, but whether the board ever gets to hear the appeal remains to be seen.
Ron Price, who owns the Beaver Ridge property approved for the electricity-generating turbines, argued in a letter submitted to the town on Tuesday that the opponents’ appeal was not properly submitted and should be dismissed.
The town’s planning board last month approved Portland-based Competitive Energy Services’ plan to erect three turbines, each 390 feet tall, on Price’s property on Beaver Ridge. The turbines would produce up to 10 million kilowatt hours each year – enough to power 2,000 homes, according to the company’s proposal. Competitive Energy hopes to complete the project by the end of 2008.
Steve Bennett and his daughter, Erin Bennett-Wade, and their spouses appealed the planning board’s decision with a notice turned in to the town office on Jan. 6, one day before the 30-day deadline.
However, their appeal did not include a site plan as required by the ordinance, according to Price.
He also said the appeal incorrectly describes the property as that owned by Roland C. Price rather than C. Ronald Price. Price also questioned a Jan. 10 amendment to the original appeal that includes a list of additional appellants.
“I cannot find any provision for amendments once an appeal is filed,” Price wrote.
The appeals board met for an organizational session on Tuesday and scheduled a hearing for 7 p.m. on Feb. 1, 2, 8, 15, 22 and March 8. All of the meetings are to be held in the basement of the Freedom Congregational Church.
The appeals board also asked the town’s board of selectmen to hire attorney Bill Kelley, who guided the planning board through its process, to work with the board throughout the hearings. The board will make no decision on Price’s letter, or the type of hearing it must hold until the first meeting.
If the board can conduct an appellant hearing it can focus specifically on the issues listed in Bennett’s appeal. If the board must hold a de novo hearing it must essentially repeat the planning board’s process.
“Everything that we determine has to be determined at this hearing process,” said Addison Chase, chairman of the appeals board.
Bennett believes there is little substance to Price’s argument. Bennett’s attorney, Edmond Bearor, mailed five notices of appeal on Jan. 4. Bennett and his daughter received their copies on Jan. 5, the day before the town’s deadline. Three notices mailed to the town office never arrived, however. Bearor then mailed five more letters on Jan. 5 with the list of 30 additional appellants, but, again, the three addressed to the town office never arrived.
Those letters also were never returned to Bearor’s office, which post office officials said would have happened if the letters had been improperly addressed, Bennett said.
Bennett checked with the town office on Jan. 6 and discovered the appeal had never arrived. Town officials copied his appeal and stamped it, but neglected to make copies of the site plan, Bennett said. His original letter of appeal and site plan was delivered to Chase that day. “Six letters have disappeared,” Bennett said. “If I hadn’t followed up our appeal would not have gotten through.”
Bennett said he did everything he could to follow the letter of the law, but was thwarted by misplaced mail.
“To deny us the right to appeal because of some technicality or some inability of the post office to deliver the mail or whatever happened to those six letters would be highly questionable,” Bennett said. “We have rights. It wouldn’t be fair.”
Price supported Bennett’s right to file an appeal, but believes the town must follow the ordinance.
“If the shoe was on the other foot they would certainly be requesting you follow the letter of the law,” Price said. “If they’re going to (appeal), they should do it correctly.”
More than 200 residents signed a petition supporting the turbine project in May of last year. Voters again showed support by a 56-25 margin at a non-binding town vote in June. Price does not believe the appeal will be successful, but the process could hurt the town.
“I think it’s just an effort to delay the process and hopefully wear down Competitive Energy Services so they go away,” Price said. “I feel the citizens of Freedom have been held up, certainly in their pocket books. They’ve voted twice and their will has not been met.”
Bennett and other abutters, however, have voiced concerns about noise, plummeting property values and safety associated with the turbines. He is confident the planning board’s decision will be overturned.
“I feel the planning board made a number of mistakes on their approval of CES’s application,” Bennett said. “I wouldn’t be spending my money if I didn’t think I have a chance to win. I am in hopes as this goes forward that people will be able to see that abutters and the people who own land in the vicinity of this project have been treated unfairly.”
By Craig Crosby
Staff Writer Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel
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