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Wind ordinance ballot question withdrawn

DIXFIELD – In a last-minute decision Monday night, selectmen unanimously voted to remove a wind-power ordinance question from next week’s ballot.

The problem, according to Town Manager Eugene Skibitsky and Selectman Norine Clarke who served on the committee to development the ordinance, was a lack of clarity that would prevent any wind development in town.

“The unintended consequences of our ordinance (if passed) would kill any wind project,” Skibitsky said. “It was not meant to be a project-killer but to be neutral.”

The town learned of the matter Monday.

Patriot Renewables LLC project coordinator Tom Carroll told the board of the sections of the proposed ordinance that would prevent wind power development. He said a group of experts specializing in various aspects of the wind project revealed the implications late last week.

Among the areas needed for clarification is what constitutes the boundary of a 4,000-foot setback from turbines, Carroll said Tuesday afternoon.

Selectmen have believed that the setback applied to occupied dwellings. However, the wording of the ordinance is so unclear that the 4,000-foot setback could be from access roads, wetlands, power lines and substations, Carroll said.

“That’s a physical impossibility,” he said.

And it was not the intention of Clarke and Selectman Steve Donahue, who spent about a year developing the ordinance.

“This came as a surprise to me,” Clarke said.

She said a lawyer and a representative from the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments checked over the proposed ordinance before it went to the rest of the board for action.

“The ballot was not withdrawn for the sake of making it compatible with wind mills,” Clarke said. “Several items were found to be unclear; several items can be misinterpreted.”

Skibitsky said the ordinance also lists a C-weighted decibel limit, rather than the type of decibel used by the state.

“There is no standard criteria for measuring C-weighted decibels,” he said.

The state allows 45 decibels at night and 55 during the day, which the proposed ordinance includes. But the “C,” which Clarke said came from another town’s ordinance, is not the type of decibel that can be measured.

Carroll said he never asked the board to pull the proposed ordinance, only to clarify it.

“Rather than have people vote on something that is unclear, we would rather withdraw it and be able to clarify it at a later time,” Clarke said.

Skibitsky said the board would decide whether to write another ordinance, propose another moratorium or take some other action after the Nov. 2 vote. At that time, residents will decide whether to zone the town, which would include banning wind development, and whether to adopt amendments to the Comprehensive Plan that would incorporate a future wind ordinance.

In the meantime, Patriots Renewables, which proposes construction of 13 turbines on the Colonel Holman Mountain ridgeline, will go ahead with its permitting process.

An informational meeting is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 28, at Ludden Memorial Library, where a battery of experts will discuss the varying aspects of wind turbine development.

Carroll said he wasn’t sure what action the Quincy, Mass., firm would take if the zoning question passes.