An element of mystery has entered the story of the increasingly controversial Competitive Energy Services (CES) wind turbine project proposed for Freedom’s Beaver Ridge. Potentially critical mail apparently went missing on its way from a lawyer’s office to the town office earlier this month. As a result, 27 local residents unhappy with what they see as significant negative effects that would result from the $12 million project now fear they might be denied their opportunity to mount an appeal.
Local landowner Ron Price, who hopes to lease the approximately 75-acre farm field site at Beaver Ridge so CES can build three 1.5 KW tower-mounted turbines there, this week called upon the town board of appeals to dismiss the action brought by a dozen abutters and by another 15 residents who also believe they would be negatively affected by the nearly 400-foot-tall wind generation structures. Price claimed in a letter to the appeals board that the town wasn’t formally notified of the appeals action within what he indicated was the requisite 30-day window following the planning board’s Dec. 7 vote to grant CES its needed building permit.
But according to Beaver Ridge neighbor Steve Bennett, the appellants did act in timely fashion. No matter that their lawyer’s mail went astray, he said Thursday, they still made good on notifying the town before the true deadline. Bennett is both an abutter to the project site and the man leading the appeals action.
Bennett said Thursday that on Jan. 4 Bangor attorney Ed Bearor mailed out three copies of a letter to the town giving notice that he and three other abutters wished to contest the planning board’s decision. The letters in separate envelopes were addressed to Town Clerk Cindy M. Abbott, Nancy Bailey-Farrar, the planning board chairman, and Addison Chase, the board of appeals chairman. In addition, the letters included a copy of the site plan submitted by CES, which Bearor acknowledged was required to accompany the appeals request.
That same day, Bennett said, Bearor also sent copies of a second letter to the same three town officials with a list of 23 other residents who wished to join the initial four in contesting the planning board’s action.
Along with each set of three letters to the town officials, the attorney also sent copies to Bennett and his wife, Judy, and to their daughter, Erin Bennett-Wade, and her husband, Jason Wade, who are also parties to the appeals action.
“I called the town office on the 5th to see if the letters had arrived,” Bennett said. “They said, “˜No, they’re not there.’ So I called on the 6th. “˜No, still not there.’ As far as I know, they still haven’t gotten them.”
But the Bennetts and their daughter and son-in-law did receive their copies of the letters on Jan. 5. Steve Bennett had to work Jan. 6 but that day his daughter brought the copy she received of the first letter to the town office where it was copied along with the site plan. The copy for the town was stamped received and dated and marked alongside with the initials of Erin Bennett-Wade and Cindy M. Abbott. Three days later, Judy Bennett brought her copy of the second letter to the town office where it was similarly marked received, dated and initialed.
Bennett said Bearor sent the six letters to the town office with the post office address–which, it turns out, is no longer valid–but also with the physical address, 71 Pleasant St. He said he spoke last week to Lori Cox, who is Freedom’s postmaster, and told her how the envelopes were supposedly addressed. She told him if she had received them at the post office addressed like that she herself would have delivered them, he said. If for some reason they were, in fact, undeliverable, he added, Cox said she would have sent them back to the sender in Bangor.
“As of this morning, they hadn’t arrived back,” Bennett said. “I’m shocked by this. I don’t know what to think at this point.”
Whatever the truth of the matter, as far as Bennett is concerned, Price’s claim the appellants failed to act in timely fashion is moot. “I don’t think that’s an issue,” he said. “The planning board voted Dec. 7 but it didn’t sign its decision until Jan. 4. I didn’t even know what was in that 12-page document until this week. I think anybody would argue the 30 days didn’t even start until Jan. 4.”
Assuming Jan. 6 was the deadline is unreasonable, Bennett said. “You’ve got two days to absorb what’s in that decision and then file an appeal. That doesn’t make sense.”
Tuesday, the five members of the board of appeals convened long enough to decide they will require the assistance of an attorney. They voted unanimously to ask the selectmen to allocate money for this purpose and recommended that Belfast attorney Bill Kelly be hired. Kelly advised the planning board through most of its deliberations on the Beaver Ridge project.
Among the issues the appeals board members will ask their attorney to advise them on is Price’s claim the appeals request is invalid. Also, Chase said Thursday, there is a question as to the scope of the board’s investigations. Under one possible course of action, the board would be restricted to a standard appellant procedure in which it would review only the information the planning board had to deal with and its corresponding actions. If, on the other hand, the attorney recommends a de novo review, then new information would be allowable in testimony and the proceedings might extend for a considerable period.
The board members gave themselves allowance Tuesday to cancel meetings if they turn out not to be needed, then formally scheduled public sessions on the Beaver Ridge appeals issue for Feb. 1, 8, 15, 22, and March 8. All the sessions are set to begin at 7 p.m. in the basement meeting room of the Freedom Congregational Church.
By Peter Taber
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