There are many misconceptions and untruths being expressed through the media about the proposed Record Hill wind project in Roxbury, according to Independence Wind, LLC principal Rob Gardiner. “We are the smallest company building wind projects in the state right now,” he said in an April 9 interview, clearly baffled at the opposition to the project that has been expressed in public meetings and in newspaper articles and letters to newspapers. “We’re engaging people in a way that some (companies) haven’t. We came here because we thought this was one of the few places where we could do a wind project without bothering anybody.” Former Maine Governor Angus King is partnering with Gardiner as a project principal. The two have been developing Independence Wind for the past two years. In a 69 to five vote, Byron residents at their March town meeting turned down a change in their town’s building ordinance that would have amended the height restriction to 450 feet and allowed for construction of wind towers. A petition has been submitted in Roxbury for a special town meeting that would put a 180-day moratorium on the project. Roxbury citizens had voted 43 to 28 at their March town meeting to approve changes to the zoning ordinance that would have been one of the steps in allowing the wind towers to be built. When asked to explain the overwhelming Byron vote against the wind farm, Gardiner noted that until a few weeks before the town meeting, there had been “a high level of acceptance” of the possibility of wind towers coming into the town. “Opponents then got very active,” he said. “There wasn’t enough chance to address the questions they raised.” Gardiner expressed his concern about the tone of the criticism, which he stressed was based on fear and not facts. “It’s one thing to say something. It’s quite another for them to say something that’s not the truth. We hadn’t expected to encounter that type of distortion.” He addressed some of the misconceptions about the project. Contrary to what has been stated by some, the developers are not looking for the wind farm to be tax exempt. “That is so false. There is no discussion of wind power being tax free.” He further emphasized that the project will not be part of a tax increment financing deal where the development gets a tax break from the town. As far as the impact on Roxbury’s taxes, Gardiner noted that the project, if it is approved by the town and through the state permitting process, would wind up paying two thirds of all property taxes in town. This, said Gardiner, would be based on the larger turbines that may be used; with a smaller turbine size, the taxes would be somewhat reduced. With the factoring in of state subsidy reductions and increased county taxes, citizens would thus pay about 60 percent of what they have been paying. Another untruth, said Gardiner, is that wildlife habitat will be destroyed if the project is approved. “You’re not allowed to destroy wildlife habitat,” he said, noting that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife closely monitor the potential effects of industrial projects on animals. “So far, all of our work has indicated there are no rare species,” said Gardiner of the project site that includes Record Hill, Flathead Mountain, and Partridge Peak. He added that the evidence from other wind projects has suggested that animals would be displaced during the construction period but that they return to their natural homes and peacefully coexist with the wind turbines during operation. With regard to road building for the project, the roads will be a little wider than logging roads with less slope to accommodate heavy machinery used to put up the towers. The DEP and the Land Use Regulation Commission strictly regulate where roads can be built, said Gardiner. Wetlands have also been mapped carefully, and Gardiner was quick to point out that less than one tenth of an acre of wetlands would be impacted by the wind project. For the first several miles of the road system, existing roads will be used. Gardiner said that he expects the roads to be constructed well enough so they won’t need to be rebuilt for many years. “The question is what we are going to do about managing that new access,” said Gardiner. Right now, the land upon which the wind towers would be situated is commonly used for hunting, snowmobiling and ATV riding. Although recreational enthusiasts have wondered about the possible loss of access with the development of the wind towers, Gardiner noted that the year-round policy regarding access would not change from what it is now. He pointed out that Wagner Forest Management, the land managers for the land parcel on the ridge, has a history of allowing the public access to their lands for multiple uses and has no intention of changing that policy with this project. “In certain limited time periods in the winter, you have a fair amount of icing,” Gardiner added, noting that times of ice buildup on the blades would be the only instance in which access will be limited. He noted that ATV riders would actually have increased access in the summer with the new roads being built. Managing the impacts of the wind project is something the developers are charged with, and the noise that would be emitted from the turning blades is something that has come under close scrutiny. A wind project in Mars Hill has been controversial from the time that it opened, both for the visual impact and the noise that has made life virtually unbearable for the residents living near it. A large part of the problem with the Mars Hill wind farm, said Gardiner, is the noise standards that DEP has may not have been applied properly to the Mars Hill project. “I can’t comment exactly on that.” The complaints from Mars Hill residents about the excessive noise have come from those living within 3,000 feet of the project, said Gardiner. The nearest home to the Roxbury project is about 3,000 feet away from it, and Gardiner pointed out that a turbine could be eliminated from the project if sound studies proved that it would cause noise at decibel levels exceeding state standards. “All of the Mars Hill complaints are tied to the houses that are much too close to the turbines. There will be no home in Roxbury that will be too close to the turbines,” he emphasized. From a noise perspective, Gardiner noted that this project site differs from Mars Hill in that most of the homes are two to four times farther away from the turbines and the sound does not carry as well as at Mars Hill. The prevailing wind direction at the Record Hill site is from the west or northwest, meaning most of the sound would be carried toward the east and away from the homes and camps along Roxbury and Garland ponds. What the visual impact will be is another question. “Some people won’t want to look at them,” said Gardiner. “I don’t want to generalize.” The towers would be visible from the west shore of Roxbury Pond, the field near the Roxbury town office, and a field next to the village, according to Gardiner. “That’s pretty much it for Roxbury. The difference between here and Mars Hill is Mars Hill is open farmland. You see all 28 turbines.” The developers are planning on 21 to 26 turbines that would be spaced between 700 and 800 feet apart. Gardiner took exception to how opponents of the Byron phase of the project portrayed the turbines visually at the town meeting there. He noted that they were passing out a telephoto simulation of what the towers would look like, leading to a perception that they would be much more visible than they actually would be. “That was completely false. You have to simulate the human eye perspective.” As for property values, Gardiner noted that “It’s a very intuitive question.” He noted that studies have shown property values have not been impacted positively or negatively by wind power projects that are in existence. The wind turbines will cut down on the use of fossil fuels, said Gardiner. “It doesn’t eliminate power plants,” he stated. “It reduces the use of fuel.” Where the energy that is generated travels to is another q
uestion. While it will be used somewhere in the Northeast, no one is sure where exactly the electricity will go within the region. The developers have stated in the past that they would like to see the energy produced stay in the area, although they admit that they have no control over where it goes. However, they do have control over the content of the information that is submitted to the public. “We are absolutely committed to maintaining our integrity,” said Gardiner.
by Barry Matulaitis
16 April 2008
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