RUMFORD – Selectmen on Thursday night voted 5-0 to hold a public hearing Nov. 18 on whether to extend the six-month moratorium on wind energy development.
The move followed Tuesday’s defeat by voters of a proposed wind ordinance that was widely believed to ban such projects.
The hearing is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18, followed by a selectmen’s meeting at 7 p.m. to decide whether to recommend extending the moratorium.
It ends Saturday, Nov. 27, Chairman Brad Adley told fellow board members, Town Manager Carlo Puiia and a crowd of about 35 people.
When Selectman Mark Belanger asked about the time period, Puiia said it could be extended up to 180 days, “if that’s your choice.”
Selectman Greg Buccina asked Puiia to define “moratorium,” which Puiia did by reading a definition from a Maine law book.
“In this case, you could not permit the construction of a wind energy facility within that moratorium,” Puiia said of Rumford.
Buccina said he read a different definition and thought that is how it should be interpreted.
“Moratorium in Webster’s dictionary says, ‘All activity shall cease,’ and that certainly hasn’t been the case in my opinion,” Buccina said.
“What is the reason for having a moratorium? Is it to benefit our citizens to make informed decisions or is it to, I mean, it just seems there’s a lot of lobbying being done, a lot of paid advertisements, and I just think that’s not what should be happening while the moratorium is in place.”
Belanger quickly responded, telling Buccina, “No. 1, you can’t stop people from talking, you can’t stop people from advertising, you just can’t stop that.”
“A moratorium was basically to prevent permitting until we adopted something. That’s all,” Belanger said. “Not that you can’t talk about it, not that you can’t lobby something. I mean, we’re in America.”
Buccina said he is aware of that, but doesn’t believe wind power developer First Wind LLC of Boston should be buying land or lobbying Rumford residents during a moratorium.
Earlier this year, First Wind proposed building up to 12 turbines for more than $60 million on Black Mountain and adjacent North and South Twin mountains.
Belanger then said both pro- and anti-wind factions lobbied for and against the ordinance, before speaking his mind about what he called “false advertising” by a pro-wind ordinance group.
“The Wind Education Committee paid for an advertisement that was very misleading to the public, stating we had voted to accept the (ordinance), which we did not – you guys voted to put it on the ballot – and that the Planning Board voted to accept the (ordinance), which they had not,” Belanger said.
“You guys voted to put it on the ballot, so that (ad) was totally misleading. That was a lie!”
“There were many lies,” Buccina acknowledged.
Puiia then explained that because Rumford didn’t have an ordinance in place to regulate wind development, a moratorium was enacted to enable that to be done.
The board’s attempt to provide such regulation, however, was defeated on Tuesday.
“So you can go out and contract with landowners and do everything but put up the wind towers, and that’s considered within compliance of a moratorium?” Buccina asked.
“Right,” Puiia said.
Belanger then attempted to steer discussion toward ending the moratorium.
“After this last vote, it’s very clear, I mean, the people have spoken twice, once 2-to-1 in favor of looking at wind, and they voted this time and felt that the wind ordinance was too restrictive, so I don’t think it should take too long,” he said.
Selectman Jeff Sterling then motioned to convene a public hearing on the matter and vote by selectmen at the board’s next meeting.
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