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Freedom clears way for wind farm

FREEDOM – Voters put out the welcome mat for a wind turbine project on Tuesday when they tossed aside the ordinance that threatened it.

Residents voted by a 59 percent margin (159-112) to repeal the commercial development review ordinance that was developed and approved last August.

The ordinance was written in response to Portland-based Competitive Energy Services plans to install three 400-foot electricity generating wind turbines on Beaver Ridge.

The planning board approved the project late last year, but the board of appeals rejected the proposal in March after finding the project failed to meet the noise levels and bonding requirements spelled out in the commercial ordinance.

Tuesday’s decision appears to clear the way for Competitive Energy to reapply for a building permit facing just the scrutiny of the code enforcement officer.

“I would say it would be no different than getting a house permit,” said David Schofield, acting code enforcement officer for the vacationing Jay Guber.

While the ordinance gave very specific requirements for a commercial project to be approved, now projects will only need to meet basic requirements on a site inspection by the code enforcement officer, Schofield said.

“The difference is dramatic,” he said. “With a commercial review, you’re looking at impact on highways, water and sound. With a home, or a small building, that’s not a consideration.”

The planning board does need to approve the code enforcement officer’s recommendation.

“It’s a formality,” said Nancy Bailey Farrar, chairwoman of the planning board. “We take a vote that everything is in line and then (the code enforcement officer) issues a permit.”

Competitive Energy had appealed the board of appeals’ decision to Waldo County Superior Court.

The company sent a letter to residents in the days leading up to Tuesday’s election promising to drop that appeal regardless of how the vote turned out. “We committed to building the project in the same way that was reviewed and approved by the town planning board,” said project manager Andy Price of Competitive Energy. “We’re not going to change our project in any way as a result of the vote.”

Steve Bennett, who led abutting property owners in an effort to kill the project, declined to comment.

Competitive Energy will reapply for a permit over the next couple of weeks, Price said. The earliest the windmills could be installed is the fall of 2008 based on the availability of turbines.

Farrar expects selectmen to ask the planning board to develop another ordinance. The relatively narrow victory for the repeal indicates residents want a new ordinance as well, Farrar said.

“The people do want a commercial development ordinance,” she said. “It needs some major changes to it, and that’s what we’ll be dealing with.”

Including non-binding resolutions and petitions, Price counts Tuesday’s vote as the fourth stamp of approval residents have given the project.

“It was a clear vote,” he said. “All four times the town has voted they have supported our project. We think this project is going to be really beneficial to the town and we intend to be good neighbors.”

By Craig Crosby
Staff Writer

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel

14 June 2007