May 29, 2008

Freedom voters debate need for development ordinance

About 45 Freedom residents gathered Tuesday, May 27, at the Dirigo Grange Hall to discuss whether the town should reinstate its Commercial Development Review Ordinance, which was thrown out last year.

Overshadowing the debate was the $12 million wind power project planned for Beaver Ridge. The CDRO was rescinded one year ago at the behest of project supporters, after the Freedom Board of Appeals found the project did not comply with the ordinance and rejected the developer’s application.

Now, opponents of the wind project seek to reinstate the ordinance and make it retroactive to last June. If they are successful, a building permit that was issued to the developers last year would presumably be invalid, and the project would once again be required to obtain local approval.

The wind power project has divided the town for more than two years. Led by Selectman Ron Price (on whose land the windmills would be erected) and resident Glen Bridges, supporters argue the project would provide an environmentally benign source of electricity and generate substantial tax revenue for the town.

Opponents, organized by several Beaver Ridge property owners, say the tax benefits are overstated, while the noise and safety problems posed by the development are substantial.

The two sides repeated those claims Tuesday night.

Moderator Don Berry did yeoman’s work in keeping the discussion on track and focused on the ordinance. Despite the passion that each side displayed, the points were argued with fewer personal attacks than had been heard in the past.

Beaver Ridge resident Jeff Keating kicked off the debate. Keating, who lives near the project site and submitted the petition to reinstate the ordinance, noted that developer CES had publicly agreed to abide by all the requirements of the ordinance, even though it was rescinded.

“It was nice of them to say that; I hope they do,” said Keating. “But I want that in writing.”

Price said the ordinance, which would regulate everything from home-based businesses to water extraction, would discourage businesses from locating in town.

“Only people with huge pocketbooks would be able to afford commercial developments in town,” said Price, who estimated it would cost $20,000 to hire engineers, surveyors and lawyers to site a 24-hour truck repair facility in town. “… I don’t think this is a good ordinance for Freedom.”

Bridges, who last year led the drive to rescind the Commercial Development Review Ordinance, said the idea that the wind turbines were a public menace was “totally over the edge.”

“It’s not a nuclear waste dump we’re talking about here,” said Bridges.

But Diane Winn, who operates Avian Haven about a mile from the Beaver Ridge site, said the bird rehabilitation facility would have to move if the ordinance is not reinstated and the project is built. Both the noise from the turbines and the threat that the spinning blades pose to birds would force Avian Haven out of Freedom, she said.

Town residents will vote on the Commercial Development Review Ordinance on Tuesday, June 10, the statewide primary election day.

A summary look at wind power and commercial development issues in Freedom will appear in the June 4 issue of the Waldo County Citizen.

By Andy Kekacs
VillageSoup/Waldo County Citizen Copy Editor

29 May 2008

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