FREEDOM – Two lawsuits that could affect the wind turbine project have been brought against the town, weeks before residents will be asked to vote for a third time on the commercial development review ordinance that was repealed last year.
In addition to the lawsuits, Jeff Keating started a petition to put the re-enactment of the commercial development review ordinance on the ballot for upcoming elections. According to Town Clerk Cindy Abbott, Keating turned in a petition containing 38 signatures.
The question, “Shall an ordinance entitled Town of Freedom Commercial Development Review Ordinance be enacted with all of its provisions being retroactive to June 12, 2007?” will be voted on by secret ballot referendum June 10.
When asked to comment on the upcoming vote, First Selectman Ron Price said he would do so “as a citizen, not as a selectman.” Price said the vote is another way for people who are opposed to the windmill project to try to stop it from happening. He said there is a lot more to the ordinance than windmills.
“Take the windmill issue right out of it, I think the town of Freedom can do a lot better,” Price said.
He said the ordinance as a whole is very restrictive, and that a person interested in any sort of commercial development would likely have to hire a team of lawyers to get through the permitting process.
“It’s not a good ordinance,” Price said, adding that he did not support it when it was first enacted and does not support it now. He also expressed his confidence that the ordinance would not be re-enacted.
“I’m pretty sure the town won’t accept it,” Price said Tuesday. “I would bet on it.”
Details on the lawsuits
Attorney Ed Bearor served two lawsuits to the town early last week. One lawsuit was brought against Beaver Ridge Wind LLC, Central Maine Power and Price by Steve and Judy Bennett, David and Mary Ann Bennett, Jason Wade and Erin Bennett-Wade, Jeff Keating, Thomas Keating, Sallyann Hadyniak, and Amanda Martin, all owners of land abutting Beaver Ridge access roads. The lawsuit says that the access roads – Sibley Road Extension, Beaver Ridge Road, and Deer Hill Road – have been abandoned or discontinued by the town, and that the roads therefore now belong to the abutting property owners.
The suit goes on to say that because the roads belong to the plaintiffs, the defendants do not have the legal right to construct utility service or transmission lines, or to construct a new road needed for the windmill project.
Price, who according to the lawsuit owns a piece of property abutting the Sibley Road Extension, as well as portions of all three access roads, said Tuesday that while abandoned or completely discontinued roads do become the property of the abutting landowners, the date of abandonment or discontinuance depends on when the town last took legislative action on the roads.
He said the town took action in the 1950s on the Beaver Ridge Road, discontinuing it for maintenance only. He said that action declared that the road was to be held open as a public way forever.
Price also said that action was taken in the 1970s to discontinue the other two roads, for maintenance only, although it was not specified that they were to remain open. He said none of the roads have been completely discontinued, and that it is unclear who owns the roads now. He said in the case of the Beaver Ridge Road, though, that the town clearly meant to keep the road open as a public way.
The construction of new roads and utility and transmission lines is a necessary part of the plan for the windmill project on Beaver Ridge.
Portland-based Competitive Energy Services (CES) first approached Freedom about constructing windmills on Beaver Ridge in the summer of 2006.
The commercial development review ordinance was created in response to the proposed project, and according to a letter to the editor written by Freedom resident Glen Bridges, CES put its building permit application on hold while the town worked on the ordinance. The ordinance was passed in August 2006.
CES applied for a building permit in September 2006, and the planning board approved it in January 2007. Soon after, a group of Freedom residents appealed the permit, claiming the project could not meet standards in the ordinance. The anti-windmill group won their appeal.
Having lost that battle, supporters of the windmill project turned their attention to the ordinance itself.
Bridges started a petition to bring the repeal of the ordinance to a vote. On June 12, 2007, residents voted 159-112 to repeal the ordinance.
On June 25, CES submitted another building permit application. This one was approved July 12.
The second lawsuit brought against the town has to do with the denial of an appeal of that new building permit in March 2008. According to the lawsuit, Freedom’s building ordinance requires that work on a project be “substantially commenced” within six months of the issuance of a building permit.
In February, Steve Bennett, Jeff Keating and Erin Bennett-Wade asked Code Enforcement Officer Jay Guber to determine in writing whether the windmill project had been substantially commenced. When Guber determined that it had, they filed an appeal. The appeal was denied in a 3-0 vote.
In the lawsuit, Bennett, Keating and Bennett-Wade said the appeals board failed to deal with a conflict of interest concerning one of the members of the board of appeals.
They asked that the conflict of interest be addressed and the appeal be reheard. They also asked that the Waldo County Superior Court find that the building permit is void.
According to Price, the potential conflict of interest was not a problem. He said that the 3-0 vote indicated that all the board members present at the appeal agreed that work had been substantially commenced on the project.
“I think it was fair, what happened there,” Price said.
Price also confirmed that work had started on the windmill project.
By Megan Richardson
The Republican Journal & The Waldo Independent
20 May 2008
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