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First Wind opens office in Rumford

RUMFORD – With a pending $60 million wind farm project on the line, Boston-based wind developer First Wind has rented an office at 180 Congress St., spokesman John Lamontagne stated via e-mail late Tuesday afternoon.

“We are not planning to staff it full time, but (will) instead use it as a base of operations as we launch our efforts to inform the citizens of Rumford about the benefits of wind energy and the serious flaws with the anti-wind ordinance that was placed on the Nov. 2 ballot,” Lamontagne said.

Earlier this year, First Wind proposed a $60 million project to build 12 turbines on sections of Black Mountain and a nearby mountain.

Their Longfellow project instantly created a rift between pro- and anti-wind residents in Rumford.

Voters, however, enacted and then extended a moratorium on such projects to develop a law regulating such development.

Few residents attended the first of two public hearings on Monday night on the proposed ordinance that was described as a protective measure for townspeople.

It was drafted by the Board of Selectmen’s appointed Wind Power Advisory Committee and promptly labeled anti-wind by First Wind’s Director of Development, Neil Kiely, and as anti-business by Selectman Mark Belanger.

When presented to selectmen on Sept. 15, the board approved it 4-1 with Belanger the lone dissenter.

Since then, board Chairman Brad Adley attempted to put a second less-restrictive ordinance on the ballot but withdrew it last month after learning it’s only a state template and not a working ordinance.

Adley and Belanger have also been threatened and publicly accused of taking bribes from First Wind, because of their stance on the proposed ordinance. Town Manager Carlo Puiia said he, too, was also targeted.

Adley and Puiia declined to reveal who they said threatened to start a recall against them for “unethical behavior” if they put a second wind ordinance on the ballot.

“It’s like a car accident, it’s gotten personal,” Adley said recently.

“It got nasty. I got a call from a lady in New York and a couple of threatening e-mails from her after.”

“I’ve gotten nasty e-mails,” he said. “It’s almost like there is an outside influence working this and there very well could be. It’s like they’re using a playbook.”

All Puiia would say is that it “was local residents that were discussing the removal of two selectpersons for unethical conduct and myself included.”

He said no town official has taken any bribes.

“It’s very ironic that those that point the finger at the developers for having a lack of ethics would resort to tactics of bullying or insinuations that would be damaging to the credibility of the individual that’s serving,” Puiia said.

Messages to Belanger have not been returned, but he spoke about being threatened by committee members via a letter to the editor published on Sept. 29 in the Rumford Falls Times.

“It troubles me to think that members of this committee and others who support them would resort to political blackmail to coerce the majority of the board,” Belanger wrote.

“I can assure you that I have not taken anything from First Wind, not even as much as a coffee,” he said. “They were nothing but professional throughout this whole process.”

Late last month, First Wind polled 175 Rumford residents by phone to learn whether they favored the Longfellow project and to create an awareness of the proposed wind ordinance. Lamontagne declined to reveal what they learned.

Residents can view and discuss the ordinance at the special business meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 12, in Muskie Auditorium at Mountain Valley High School, and at the second public hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14, in Rumford Falls Auditorium.

Kiely, from First Wind, is scheduled to talk about the ordinance at both meetings.

Lamontagne said the First Wind office at 180 Congress St. is considered temporary pending the outcome of the Nov. 2 vote. Balloting is from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 2 at the American Legion near First Wind’s new office.

“We will be making a permanent commitment to an office in Rumford if the proposed Longfellow project is allowed to proceed,” Lamontagne said.