RUMFORD – Five days after selectmen approved placing a proposed wind power ordinance on the Nov. 2 ballot, developer First Wind began polling townspeople by phone.
They wanted to know whether the more vocal wind power opponents they’d encountered at municipal meetings spoke on behalf of the whole town, spokesman John Lamontagne said Thursday.
Earlier this year, First Wind of Newton, Mass., tentatively proposed a $60 million project to build 12 turbines on sections of Black Mountain and a nearby mountain.
Rumford voters, however, enacted a moratorium on wind power development until a law regulating such development could be drafted and presented to voters in November. Selectmen voted 4-1 to put the draft ordinance on the ballot.
Lamontagne said First Wind polled 175 residents on Monday and Tuesday to learn whether they favored the company’s project.
“The primary purpose of this was to determine what kind of support there was for this project we’re proposing in Rumford,” he said. “We’re looking at investing quite a bit of money into Rumford, and so we don’t want to move ahead with something if there’s not significant public support for it.”
Lamontagne said the company would not reveal what it learned during the polling.
“It’s something we did for our own purposes,” he said. “It’s not for public consumption.”
He said it’s not unusual for First Wind to poll before making a significant investment. The company also wanted to know whether those polled supported the proposed ordinance, which residents will hear about at a meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 12, in Muskie Auditorium at Mountain Valley High School.
“The wind ordinance that’s been written is something that largely sends a message of anti-business to a company like ours, so we want to find out from local folks if that’s something they would support,” Lamontagne said.
While Lamontagne wouldn’t reveal the questions asked in the survey, Town Manager Carlo Puiia said he was among those polled.
Whether the polling service knew it, Puiia and Selectmen Brad Adley and Greg Buccina helped the board’s Wind Power Advisory Committee draft the ordinance.
“A lot of it centered around trying to create an awareness of the contents of the local ordinance,” Puiia said of the poll. “Very noticeably, it was a biased interview, meaning it was in their favor to try and make the citizens aware of the setback requirements.”
The requirements would site wind turbines at least:
* 2,500 feet from property lines of landowners not leasing land to the wind developer.
* 1,500 feet from a public way.
* 1,200 feet from any above-ground electric power or telephone line.
* One mile from any residence, business, school, day care facility, church, hospital or other occupied structure on any non-project parcel.
* 2,500 feet from any scenic or special resource of state or national significance.
At a board workshop last month on the ordinance, First Wind Project Manager Neil Kiely said the mile-long buffer was nine times more restrictive than the standard recommended by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
“A 1-mile buffer around the entire project could be 6,000 acres,” Kiely said. “In reality, when working with landowners, putting together a puzzle that large is daunting.”
Another issue was blade glint, which the ordinance defines as the intermittent reflection of the sun off the surface of wind turbine blades. It is prohibited in the proposed ordinance.
Puiia said the pollster told him that the blade-glint restriction isn’t relevant in other communities that have created wind power ordinances.
“They were, I think, trying to get their point across, feeling that it’s a very restrictive ordinance that would, in their opinion, prohibit wind development,” Puiia said.
“It was interesting,” he said. “Mostly, it was centered on the contents of the ordinance itself, things that they thought were not in their best interests, which again, it’s their survey and they’re going to do it the way they want to.”
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