FREEDOM (Feb 16): Members of the Board of Appeals asked sharp questions Thursday as they continued to review the wind power project proposed by Competitive Energy Services of Portland.
Neighboring landowners have hired Bangor lawyer Edmond Bearor to press their case against the $12 million project, which would site three 400-foot-tall wind turbines atop Beaver Ridge to generate electricity for as many as 2,000 homes.
As the board began to discuss the Planning Board’s decision to waive a requirement that CES prepare a storm water management plan, Addison Chase questioned whether the town’s code enforcement officer could adequately oversee construction activities on the site and the discontinued road that leads to it.
“This puts a burden on the CEO [Jay Guber] to make sure that every day they [the developers] use best management practices,” said the appeals board chairman. “I guess I’m buying into Mr. Bearor’s argument that “¦ it’s a bigger question that should have been dealt with by an engineer up front.”
Earlier, board member Lissa Widoff noted the noise levels predicted to be produced by the turbines are very close to the maximum allowable under Freedom’s Commercial Development Review ordinance. The study done to estimate the noise assumed that Beaver Ridge was normally a very quiet place, with “ambient” sound levels from 30-35 decibels. But opponents have suggested the hilltop is likely to have natural sound levels in the range of 40-45 decibels, which could push the wind turbines over the noise threshold.
Actual measurements of ambient noise were never done for the CES study.
“To me, it boils down to “¦ [the fact that] the predicted noise levels are very, very, very, very close to the limit,” said Widoff. “A question for me is: Does the addition of ambient noise levels bump it over the limit? This is a gray area; there’s no other study that covers this particular question in the information we have before us.”
But board member Mike Smith said the accuracy of the sound study was not that important. “It’s a performance issue,” he said, noting CES was legally required to meet the 45-decibel limit at nearby houses and would face penalties if it failed to do so.
Board member Frances Walker also had some incisive questions, both for CES and for the neighbors. She noted that abutting property owners had much to lose “in a subjective way,” citing their appreciation of the solitude and rural character of their properties.
“But you have $10 million to lose,” she said to Andy Price, a representative of CES. “Why didn’t someone go out there with a meter to measure [the ambient sound levels]?”
Walker, however, also questioned whether a relatively noisy Beaver Ridge might not mask some of the sound from the turbines, making it less obtrusive. Furthermore, she questioned what would happen if the turbines were in compliance with the Freedom ordinance when they were erected, but other developments in the neighborhood – for instance, a new business with noisy equipment – pushed the sound levels over the maximum.
“You can’t hold CES responsible for the decibels going up [because of other factors],” she said.
The Board of Appeals faces a high legal bar if it decides to overturn the decision. According to Alton Stevens, the Waterville lawyer who is advising the board, members can reverse a Freedom Planning Board decision “only if it is clearly contrary to the provisions of this [Commercial Development Review] ordinance.”
The board will continue its review of the Planning Board decision at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 8, at the Freedom Congregational Church.
By Andy Kekacs
16 February 2007
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