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Regional committee working on wind power regulations

BETHEL – Rather than institute a moratorium on wind power development as some towns are doing while regulatory ordinances are developed, officials from five area towns took a proactive approach.

Since July, officials and townspeople from Bethel, Greenwood, Hanover, Newry and Woodstock have met five times as the Regional Wind Power Committee to create and review a document with which to regulate wind farms.

They’re working with and have had senior planner John Maloney of the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments draft a document based on criteria and questions they sent him, Bethel Town Manager Jim Doar, a committee member, said after Thursday night’s meeting.

“I have a lot of respect for the work John Maloney does,” said Newry Selectman Jim Largess. “He brings in an expertise that we just don’t have.”

Committee members aren’t yet calling the document an ordinance. They say it’s a tool that planners from the five towns can incorporate into their own ordinances, Largess said.

“It’s a working document at this point that we just discuss, and then will bring back to the towns to either make part of our already existing ordinances or create its own ordinance,” Largess said.

“Different towns are at different states, as far as ordinances go,” he said. “The goal is to just have something that is workable for all the towns. It takes into account the needs of all of our neighbors. If there’s ever a need for a regional solution, this is it.”

The group is composed of planners, a selectmen and a citizen from each town.

Among the topics discussed Thursday were turbine blade flicker, seeking bonds should town roads be damaged by trucks carrying heavy wind farm parts, safety setbacks should turbines fall over, hazardous waste generated by blasting, decommissioning and ensuring that developers share emergency rescue response plans with local firefighters.

“At the end of the day, it’s the planning boards that are going to put this together,” Largess said. “They have to deal with it. They have to work with it every day.”

“The goal, I think, for everybody here, is for when a wind power person shows up at our doors and says, ‘We’d like to do wind power,’ that we have an answer for them,” he said. “Not pro, not con, but an answer for them that says, ‘Here’s the standards you have to meet to have wind power in our town.’”

Largess and Doar said wind developers have yet to come knocking, but they are aware that each of the towns has a pod of potential sites for wind turbines.

“The potential is there and we just want to be ready,” Largess said. “We don’t want to be on our heels going, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know what’s the answer. We’ll put it to a moratorium.’”

“We don’t want to do that,” Doar said.

“We owe it to the developers to give them an answer,” Largess said.

“I cringe when towns go, ‘Moratorium, moratorium; we don’t know what to do,’” Doar said. “We want to get out ahead of that with a little bit of proper planning.”

“It certainly is big stuff to see all the towns come together and we’re all pulling on the same rope, which is nice,” Largess said.

The committee meets the second and fourth Thursdays of each month.