Opponents of the wind turbine project atop Beaver Ridge wrapped up their case Thursday, Feb. 8, before the board of appeals.
Bearor invited Perrin Todd, a resident of Mars Hill, to come to Freedom and describe the volume and quality of noise from wind turbines recently installed there. Ultimately, there will be 28 turbines strung along the mountain for which the Aroostook County town is named.
Richard Silkman, a partner in CES. Silkman said the two projects were so different that there was little to be gained from Todd’s testimony. “[His] comments are about a project that is not on Beaver Ridge, not even in the same county,” said Silkman.
If appeals board members considered Todd’s comments to be valuable, said Silkman, they should also hear about the hundreds of other wind turbine projects across the United States.
Furthermore, said Silkman, the noise limits set by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection for the Mars Hill project were far higher than those allowed by the Commercial Development Review Ordinance in Freedom.
“You’re absolutely right; the DEP has higher limits,” countered Bearor. “Mr. Todd is a living example [of the impact] of that.”
Pete Bowers, a member of the appeals board, questioned whether the testimony would be relevant. “This has no relation to our area at all,” said Bowers.
But Lissa Wydoff, another member, said there were “many ways it could be related “¦ Whether it is germane or not won’t be known until we hear it. I trust our ability to discern what is useful and what is not.”
The appeals board allowed Todd to speak. He said there were four turbines near his house, the closest about 2,100 feet away. The noise from them varied with the weather, he said. It was, however, “a very troubling noise, a very disturbing noise.”
“With every turn of the blade, there is an emission [of sound] as it passes the tower,” he said.
Silkman countered that a sound study prepared for Mars Hill predicted noise would exceed 45 decibels (the maximum allowed under the Freedom ordinance) at 44 homes, and exceed 55 decibels at 18 properties. “It’s not surprising that Mr. Todd is hearing [noise from the turbines] “¦ the sound study predicted it,” said Silkman. “Our sound studies predict less than 45 decibels [at any residence near Beaver Ridge].”
Todd, however, said his home was located in a region that was predicted to have noise of less than 45 decibels.
In addition to calling Todd, Bearor also invited Dave Bennett, assistant fire chief in Freedom, to repeat his contention that the volunteer fire department was unable to provide fire or rescue services in the event of an incident on one of the towers.
The local ordinance requires the planning board to find that the town has the capacity to provide fire and rescue services to a new project, according to Bearor, but firefighters say they are not capable of doing so.
Silkman, however, said CES had committed to install fire suppression systems in the three turbine hubs, and provide funds to train and equip Freedom firefighters to perform “high-angle” rescues.
The issue of whether the turbines could be sited in such a way as to meet the town’s setback requirements also was revisited. Jeff Keating, an abutting landowner, said he took GPS measurements at the site and determined that there was 684.95 feet between property lines in the area where one turbine would be site. To meet setback requirements, Keating said, there need to be 686 feet.
Silkman, however, said the company determined there were 700.8 feet between property lines in that area, more than enough to meet the setbacks.
“There is no question it will fit “¦,” he said. “Obviously, we have to be careful when we site it “¦ but it will fit.”
In his wrap-up, Silkman said the company had hired an Augusta lawyer to review the status of Sibley Road. The upper portion of the road was discontinued in 1975, and Bearor contended last week that CES had no right to upgrade the road or bury electrical lines along it.
Silkman said his lawyer found that Freedom might not have followed the correct procedure to discontinue the road. If so, it remains a public way and there is no issue about access or utility rights of way.
Even if the road is private, he said, CES has the right to upgrade and travel it through its lease with Ron Price of Knox, on whose land the turbines would be build.
In any case, Central Maine Power has the right to site utility lines along the road under its eminent domain power, Silkman asserted.
Bearor scoffed at the suggestion. “CES can’t take Mr. Bennett’s property “¦ or anyone else’s property,” he said. “CMP won’t take the land of others for eminent domain.”
For Bearor, the lack of a clear right to transit the discontinued portion of Sibley Road was a fatal flaw in the CES application. Regardless of the appeals board decision on the matter, Bearor said, the road issue would be appealed in court if necessary to stop the project.
Steve Bennett told the appeals board the proposal was “more about greenbacks than green power.” If it wasn’t for numerous “tax credits “¦ schemes and whatnot – Enron leftovers – there probably wouldn’t be a single turbine going up.”
The turbines were a bad deal for Freedom, Bennett said. “It will take away from other development on Beaver Ridge, it’s not going to provide power to the town, and as far as I know it’s not going to provide any jobs to the town.”
Silkman said CES had met “every single term and condition in the zoning ordinance.” He said the planning board had spent a great deal of time on its review of the project, and the appeals board should rely on that.
“For this board to ignore what the planning board did would be a very serious mistake,” he said. “It would send a message that you don’t have to pay attention to the planning board, just bring it [a contested project] to the appeals board. I don’t think that’s what the citizens expected when they voted on the [Commercial Development Review] ordinance.”
Bearor, however, said the appeals board should overturn the approval because of the numerous errors the planning board had made and the lack of evidence to support its findings.
Addison Chase, chairman of the appeals board, gave the parties seven days to file written material related to the review.
The appeals board will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15, at the Freedom Congregational Church to begin its final deliberations.
By Andy Kekacs
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