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Rumford selectmen plan work on wind farm issues

RUMFORD – Thursday night’s wind power workshop by selectmen resembled a planning session that covered a lot of old ground.

By meeting’s end 75 minutes later, Town Manager Carlo Puiia “assigned” selectmen homework: to be prepared to discuss decommissioning, safety setbacks, and turbine blade flicker at the next workshop Thursday, Jan. 27.

Noise issues with turbines and allowable decibel levels will be discussed separately with experts, likely from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

When discussion deviated to ordinances created by other towns, Puiia reminded the board five times that they had previously approved creating a new ordinance from a template produced by the Office of Maine State Planning.

That decision came after voters on Nov. 2 defeated the board’s proposed first ordinance by a tally of 1,339 to 1,048. That proposal, which was publicly labeled anti-wind, was drafted after nine months of work and research by the board’s Wind Power Advisory Committee.

During Thursday’s discussion, other than Selectman Greg Buccina, most suggested basing Rumford’s ordinance on a regional wind development ordinance created in Bethel for Bethel, Woodstock, Greenwood and Newry.

“I think the Bethel regional one is a good one to review, because they’re our neighbors,” Puiia said.

Rather than start anew with the state template, Buccina remained loyal to the defeated ordinance he helped the Wind Power Advisory Committee to create. Reasons for doing so, he said, were that more than 1,000 people voted for it; a committee spent nine months on it; and all this board should do is make certain objectionable restrictions are less restrictive.

However, Selectmen Mark Belanger, Jeff Sterling and Chairman Brad Adley said they want to better understand noise decibels, and what sounds they can expect to hear from turbine-topped ridges under a variety of atmospheric conditions.

They want firsthand accounts by taking a field trip to the Mars Hill wind farm, listening to turbines and talking with residents and municipal officials.

They also asked Puiia to schedule presentations by unbiased experts in noise and flicker.

Belanger said the Bethel regional ordinance increased a decibel level restriction from 55 in the state template to 65 and he wanted to understand why.

“We need answers before we can decide what’s reasonable and what’s not, I think,” he said.

“To Mark’s point, we could get this all done tonight if we wanted to, just plug in whatever numbers we want to and we’d be done with it, but would any of us feel good about it?” Selectman Jeff Sterling asked.

“Just speaking for myself, I have to be relatively sure – and relatively is the key word – that what we give to the voters to vote on in June is solid, and not just something where we went, ‘Let’s put 55 here, 65 there, 45 here.’”

“I think this is our last shot at it,” Sterling said.

“If we don’t come up with one that gets voted in, I think it’s going to be really hard for us to find another group to do it a third time, because we’d probably be better off to just give it to DEP and say, ‘There you go, make us something,’ and we would lose any sort of a say in what’s allowed.”

“So we’ve got to do this right – and that’s not to say the previous group didn’t do it right – so we give the town at least some control over this type of development,” Sterling said.

Prior to adjourning, Rumford residents only were allowed to speak. From the 11 people present, Roger Arsenault identified himself as a member of the board’s committee that drafted the defeated ordinance.

He said the committee attempted to bring in experts on wind power issues, but they were criticized because said experts were labeled too one-sided.

He then asked the board to bring Boston-based wind developer First Wind to a workshop or forum.

“Bring them to the table and let the taxpayers hear what their project is being proposed for our community,” Arsenault said.

“You’re going to bring an ordinance to the table just as the advisory group did last year, and people are going to vote on something that they know very little about, so this is an opportunity for them to be here.”

He also advised selectmen to seriously consider “what happens if you pick a number and you’re wrong.”