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Dixmont voters OK wind farm moratorium

DIXMONT, Maine – A moratorium on industrial wind farms and a new comprehensive plan both passed by wide margins Wednesday night during a special town meeting at the Etna Dixmont School.

The 131 voters who turned out for the meeting voted 111-20 in favor of the 180-day moratorium, which aimed to give town officials time to study the pros and cons of such projects, First Selectman Brian Wilson said.

That information gathering already is under way, Wilson said, and likely will involve looking at how other communities have dealt with the issue, visits to existing wind farms and discussions with experts.

The moratorium was by far the most hotly debated issue, taking up all but 15 minutes of the two-hour meeting, Wilson said, crediting Moderator Charlie Gilbert with keeping the debate on topic.

Two and a half years in the making, the comprehensive plan passed by a vote of 96-5, Wilson said, adding that it was the first the town has voted to adopt.

“This plan is good,” he said, noting that it was the product of committee work, public meetings and outreach efforts, to name a few.

The moratorium was prompted by a Portland company’s efforts to find places to put up several large wind turbines on Dixmont’s Mount Harris.

The company, Competitive Energy Services, also is affiliated with the three-turbine Beaver Ridge Wind Project recently completed in Freedom.

Wilson said Wednesday that other companies might be looking at Mount Harris and other high spots, including Peaked Mountain and Hog Hill.

The language of the moratorium proposal states that existing land use laws in town are inadequate to prevent serious public harm from wind power development in Dixmont.

“Suitable sites and methods for wind power development need to be reviewed and identified,” the moratorium states. “Failure to carefully review and plan for wind power development will reduce options available to the town and may result in devaluation, blight, issues affecting public health and welfare, and environmental degradation.”

Several Maine towns have proposed moratoriums in an effort to slow down wind power projects. In most cases, moratorium supporters say the towns lack the legal mechanisms to ensure that the turbines, which often measure nearly 400 feet tall from base to blade tip, are sited properly.

Supporters of wind energy tout the technology as an abundant, local source of pollution-free energy. Maine is New England’s leading producer of wind energy.

Critics say noise, vibrations and light reflecting off the enormous spinning blades can disrupt sleep, affect neighbors’ enjoyment of their property and even be unhealthy for some individuals.

Voters in nearby Jackson recently approved a similar moratorium.

In a letter to Dixmont residents, Competitive Energy Services vows to work with residents.

“If the moratorium passes, we will work with your planning board to develop building ordinances that ensure that wind development is consistent with the interests of the town of Dixmont,” the letter states.

The full moratorium is available on the town’s Web site at www.townofdixmont.org.

Information about the Mount Harris project and other wind projects can be seen on Competitive Energy Services’ Web site at www.competitive-energy.com.

BDN writer Kevin Miller contributed to this report.