FREEDOM – The Board of Appeals has turned down a request to revoke the building permit for a $12 million wind power project on Beaver Ridge, saying the development had met a requirement to “substantially commence” within six months.
Beaver Ridge Wind was issued a permit for the project last July, a few weeks after Freedom residents threw out the town’s Commercial Development Review Ordinance, which had set various standards for the project.
Although the Planning Board found the wind turbines met the ordinance standards, the approval was overturned by the Board of Appeals.
That led to a petition drive led by Glen Bridges to overturn the Commercial Development Review Ordinance. Bridges and other wind-power supporters were successful, paving the way for the issuance of the building permit.
Steve Bennett, a Beaver Ridge landowner and vocal opponent of the project, argued there was no evidence the developer had actually begun construction on the site, however.
“The building ordinance is very explicit that, if the work permitted by the application has not ‘substantially commenced’ within six months, the permit is void,” said Bennett. “There are only three test borings up there to see how deep the soil is. You don’t need a permit to do test borings.”
Actual activities authorized by the building permit – including building a road, constructing three foundations and putting up the wind turbines – have not begun, he said.
The Board of Appeals disagreed with Bennett in a 3-0 vote on Thursday, May 1. Two members were absent – Chairman Addison Chase and Michael Smith.
Dave Bridges, husband of the woman who led the campaign to overturn the Commercial Development Review Ordinance, was elected acting chairman of the appeals board, and his wife took notes for the meeting.
At a May 2007 public hearing, Dave Bridges had spoken at length in support of wind power. Freedom’s ordinance governing the Board of Appeals does not treat a previously expressed opinion on a project as a conflict of interest, however. It only specifies that a conflict occurs if a board member or his family stands to gain financially from a project.
Bridges did not return a calls from the Waldo County Citizen.
Frances Walker, one of the three appeals board members who attended the May 1 meeting, said she was opposed to Dave Bridges participating in the hearing.
“I protested his serving on this hearing because he and his wife were prominent members of the pro-windmill organization,” she said. ” … I moved to kick him off, but nobody seconded that, so the motion failed.”
Walker said she does not fault the Bridges for supporting the project, she only believes that appeals board members should be neutral if they are to vote on its future. She said the matter should not have been decided until Chase returned from a trip out of state.
The issue is a complicated one, Walker said, and she can appreciate both sides of the debate. In the end, she decided to vote with the majority because she did not feel the anti-windmill forces should win on a technicality.
“I couldn’t see that they hadn’t started some kind of construction,” she said, “even if the construction began off-site at a factory … [Beaver Ridge Wind] said they had already purchased the windmills, which are being built.”
Bennett, however, said the issue was not given a fair hearing. The issue should not have been decided until Chase returned to town, he said, given Bridges’ open support for the project.
Meanwhile, anti-windmill forces have launched a referendum drive to reinstate the Commercial Development Review Ordinance and make it retroactive to the date it was overturned. The issue will be decided by secret ballot June 10, during statewide primary voting.
“If this project is built, it will be the only commercial wind project built in the state of Maine without any standards,” said Bennett. “…They don’t even have a fall zone. These are basically 400-foot turbines [erected as close as 350 feet to property lines]. If they do fall, they’ll fall on someone else’s [land].”
By Andy Kekacs
VillageSoup/Waldo County Citizen Copy Editor
7 May 2008
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