SKOWHEGAN – A wind development project that could stretch 50 turbines from Bingham through Mayfield Township could create six to 12 long-term, full-time jobs.
And, a plan for a tax-increment financing district, to capture increases in property values in the project area on unorganized territory land, could be flexible.
Somerset County Commissioners listened to Joan Fortin, a Bernstein Shur attorney for First Wind, on Wednesday night as she explained the economic benefit of a wind project that proposes the installation of 32 turbines in Mayfield.
Residents of nearby towns and townships, however, questioned the economic benefit and cautioned that the project would come at the expense of people’s health, the landscape and the abundance of animals.
Commissioners ultimately voted unanimously to look into hiring a consultant, paid for by First Wind, to look into the pros and cons of a tax-increment financing (TIF) district.
Because Mayfield is an unorganized territory, a TIF district there, which would potentially encompass $150 million of property, would split increases in property value between the county and First Wind, a Boston-based company also responsible for Stetson Wind in Washington County.
The money captured by the TIF district would have to be used for economic development projects in the unorganized territories.
While the TIF district could capture 100 percent of the property value increase, and then split it, with 30 percent going to the county and 70 percent going to First Wind, that arrangement could be altered, Fortin said.
The TIF district could capture just 90 percent of the property value increase, or 75 percent, and then divide it between the county and First Wind appropriately. The remaining money that wasn’t captured in the TIF fund would revert to the state in new taxes.
“The point is to show the flexibility of the TIF program,” Fortin said. “Our goal is to have a dialogue, not to push you to do something you don’t want.”
Attendees questioned whether creating a TIF district would be beneficial for the county or just a tax break for First Wind.
“There’s nothing green about industrial, commercial wind,” said Jack Flynn, of Bingham. “It’s a tax haven for the wealthy.”
“Apparently they’re here because we have the best wind in the state, so that’s something to keep in mind. There’s not a lot of places they can go,” said Jay Staton, of Highland Plantation.
David Miller, of Lexington Township, said that full- and part-time jobs would be created at the expense of already existing jobs.
“The fact is you’re going to lose a lot of employment in the county, too,” he said, referring to wilderness-related jobs, such as guiding.
He said it is important to also consider the impact that the construction of roads and turbine sites would have on fish. Construction can impact streams that feed into salmon and brook trout waters, he said.
Margy Flynn of Bingham said, “We really haven’t heard any open discussion about the health implications.” She said turbines six miles away can cause loss of sleep, rapid heartbeat, depression, anxiety and feelings of helplessness.
Commissioners reminded residents that they have no control over the permitting process, which will be completed by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
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