FREEDOM – Heavy equipment has arrived on Beaver Ridge, the start of what could become the largest construction project this town has ever seen.
Beaver Ridge Wind, an affiliate of Competitive Energy Services of Portland, holds a permit to construct three 400-foot-tall windmills on hilltop farm fields owned by Selectman Ron Price. But the controversial $12 million project continues to face staunch opposition from some of the people who live near the site.
The way was opened for the project on June 12, 2007, when voters threw out the town’s Commercial Development Review Ordinance. Resident Glen Bridges led the drive to repeal the ordinance after the Freedom Board of Appeals found the proposal did not comply with its requirements and rejected the developer’s application.
Almost a year later, about 45 Freedom residents gathered Tuesday, May 27, at the Dirigo Grange Hall to discuss whether the town should reinstate the CDRO and make it retroactive to last June. If they are successful, the building permit that was issued to the developers last year would presumably be invalid, and the project would again be required to obtain local approval.
The latest vote on the Commercial Development Review Ordinance will be held Tuesday, June 10 during the statewide primary elections.
In public discussions of the Commercial Development Review Ordinance, both sides sought to portray the issue as being larger than the Beaver Ridge proposal. The repeal of the ordinance meant that Freedom has no standards for evaluating commercial proposals in town. Some said that was a bad thing, while others thought the 46-page ordinance was excessively restrictive.
But that’s really a side issue. The only proposal on the table in Freedom right now is Beaver Ridge.
The wind power project has divided the town for more than two years. The pages of the Waldo County Citizen have been filled for the last several weeks with opinion columns and letters about the development, both pro and con.
While a number of Beaver Ridge landowners have been vocal opponents of the project, others neighbors either declined to comment this week or were neutral.
Read Brugger, an early supporter of the development, said he has since decided to “stay right out of it [the fight]. It got too ugly.” Gary Zane, dean for student affairs at Unity College and another nearby owner, declined to comment.
Bob Gerrish, who owns one of the houses closest to the site, said he was neutral. “I’ve been up to Mars Hill [site of a 28-turbine wind project] and I didn’t think they were that loud,” he said. “I can’t begrudge a guy [Price] for doing something on his own property.”
Led by Price and Bridges, supporters argue the project would provide an environmentally benign source of electricity and generate substantial tax revenue for the town.
Opponents organized by former Selectman Steve Bennett, who lives near the site, say the tax benefits are overstated, while the noise and safety problems posed by the development are substantial.
The two sides repeated those claims at the public hearing. 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.
There is evidence to support virtually every point of view on the project. Some people find the noise unbearable; others do not notice it. Anecdotal information suggests that windmills could reduce the value of nearby properties, but the impact has not been well documented.
Some communities have found the tax benefits of the projects to be substantial; others have seen the benefits eroded by decreases in state financial support as local property values rise, or by depreciation of the value of the windmills over time. Some turbines have been shown to throw dangerously large chunks of ice at high speeds; others haven’t.
Ultimately, the question for Freedom is whether the town wants the Beaver Ridge project, and how much it is willing to tolerate to get it. That will be put to a vote again June 10.
By Andy Kekacs
VillageSoup/Waldo County Citizen Copy Editor
5 June 2008
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