FREEDOM – The latest appeal of a proposed wind turbine project nearly failed to get off the ground on Wednesday.
Attorney’s representing Portland-based Competitive Energy Service and Ron Price, who owns the Beaver Ridge property where the turbines would be built, spent nearly the first hour of the Board of Appeals meeting arguing that the board did not have the authority to hear the appeal and that two of the four members were biased against the project.
“If the appeals ordinance doesn’t give you jurisdiction over the appeal than the appeal would have be to superior court,” said Price representative Jed Davis.
Competitive Energy hopes to erect three, 400-foot electricity generating turbines on Beaver Ridge.
After more than a year of hearings before town boards, and a vote by residents in June to retract a commercial development ordinance that had thwarted the project, the Planning board approved a building permit for the turbines in July.
In their appeal filed last month, Steve Bennett, his daughter, Erin Bennett-Wade, and Jeff Keating argued three points for overturning the planning board’s decision: that a portion of Sibley Road, which will be used to deliver the turbines to the project site, has been discontinued and cannot be upgraded; that the trucks carrying the large parts for the turbines cannot make the turn from North Palermo Road onto Sibley Road without trespassing over private property; and that Competitive Energy did not secure approval from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection for the project.
Davis, citing a letter from a Maine Municipal Association attorney, said the board should toss out the appeal.
“None of these issues on appeal relates to a standard in the building ordinance,” he said. “There’s nothing to appeal.”
Bennett, however, argued that all three points in the appeal were based on state law, which the Code Enforcement Officer must enforce. That, in effect, make state laws applicable to town standards.
Davis further argued that state law prohibited the board from hearing the appeal because the board’s ordinance did not specifically grant it power to overturn decisions by the planning board.
Citing conflicting language in two ordinances, the board voted 3-0 (chairman Addison Chase abstained) to move forward with the hearing.
“Historically we have heard appeals from the planning board,” said board member Frances Walker. “That was the intention of the town of Freedom.”
Davis final attempt to halt the meeting was to accuse Chase and board member Lissa Widoff of bias. Chase has voiced his disapproval of the turbine project, Davis said, and Widoff wrote an article expressing her disfavor.
“Part of due-process is that the people making the decision are unbiased,” Davis said. “My clients cannot get a fair hearing when two of the four people on the board have already made up their minds.”
Chase said his disapproval has always been with the process the project has followed, not the project itself. Widoff argued that her article was regarding the board of appeals first rejection of the project last year.
Chase said everyone has opinions, but the board’s responsibility is to make a decisions based on facts.
The board is next scheduled to meet again to consider the appeal at 7 p.m. on Sept. 12 at the Congregational Church.
By Craig Crosby
6 September 2007
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