RUMFORD – Following Thursday’s emotional debate, it would appear there’s a renewed sense of urgency on the part of the Board of Selectmen to complete the work needed to present a proposed wind ordinance to townspeople.
That work will continue with a 6 p.m. workshop that takes place in the Rumford Falls Auditorium.
Selectman Jeremy Volkernick opened the debate at the meeting Thursday, saying he wished to put the Rumford ordinance back onto the ballot in part because the committee spent seven to nine months in preparing it. However, he noted that the town’s Charter says that cannot be done.
“There’s a lot of pros and cons (to wind power), and I feel the taxpayers of Rumford, when they go and vote, they ought to have a choice,” he said.
As it is now, Volkernick said voters will be presented with one proposed ordinance. “If you vote “no,” you will be stuck with the DEP plan.”
He said he would like to see four choices – the proposed ordinance being developed by selectmen; the proposed ordinance that was voted down; a third choice such as the Bethel ordinance; or none of the above.
“Choices do matter and the way it stands right now, when you go to vote in June, chances are you’re to see one thing on the ballot,” noted Volkernick.
Town Manager Carlo Puiia added that the town’s wind moratorium expires at the end of May. If the proposed wind power ordinance is then rejected by voters, “Then there would be no ordinance in place in Rumford. The project would fall under the DEP guidelines and you would not have any local control.”
Volkernick then noted, “We only have a few months and I’d like to see this ordinance prepared for the taxpayers so they can review it at least 60 days before they have to vote…”We’ve got to get this taken care of because we have budget season coming up.”
Board Chairman Brad Adley noted that there are other towns that have gone with the template prepared by the State Planning Office, with the DEP guidelines.
Selectman Mark Belanger added, “I’d be okay with the SPO model. You’re not going to please everybody.”
He noted that the previous wind ordinance brought before voters failed. “We should give the same vote to the SPO model and see where it goes. Give it the same treatment you did the other one. If you want to tweak it a little, tweak it a little. But don’t tweak it to the point where it’s not standardized. Because if that’s the case, there’s no basis to regulate. How can you regulate something that’s never been regulated?”
Selectman Greg Buccina said, “There aren’t that many other towns in the state that are developing ordinances with wind power companies that are using the state model. In many instances, they far exceed the state model. They are creating their own.”
Defending that past proposed ordinance, he said Rumford had an ordinance that would have protected citizens. “There were no questions asked and no commentary during this whole procedure. Now we think we’re going to come in here and draft an ordinance. All we’re going to do is give these guys a free ride to the top of the mountain on my taxpayer dollars. We get nothing out of this, as far as I’m concerned.”
He noted that he isn’t going to accept the SPO model with DEP standards “just because we have nothing else.” Buccina insisted that they look at the former proposed ordinance, take out what shouldn’t be in there, make some changes and then support it.
Belanger said, “You keep dredging up the past. I think we need to give this (a proposal by selectmen) another shot and give the people what they want.”
Puiia noted, “It’s not about whether there’s a project or not. It’s about regulating it. We’re not supposed to make that decision. If the town has a regulation in place, the town has some part in regulating the project.”
First Wind LLC of Boston has proposed constructing up to 12 industrial wind turbines on Black Mountain and adjacent North and South Twin mountains.
Resident Kevin Saisi said the board is responsible for putting forward an ordinance before the town.
Resident Candace Casey said people want wind power and economic development. “You guys need to do your job.”
Jim Thibodeau, who served on the previous wind ordinance committee, said that with the vote in June, the Board of Selectmen “can’t do justice to an ordinance with the time you’ve put into it.”
He said the prior committee, with more members, spent seven to nine months going to people with facts and information. “Work with the ordinance you’ve got and see what happens.”
On Friday, Puiia said the situation is not as dire as it appeared at the prior night’s meeting. “It’s still a divided issue. Very emotional.”
Puiia said that at their meeting on Dec. 2, the Board of Selectmen voted 4-0 (Volkernick was absent) to use the State Planning Office model as a template. It would require another vote for selectmen to go back to using the previous proposed ordinance as that template.
There are other minor items, but the board identified four major areas to focus on with the SPO template, which contains DEP standards. Those items are noise, flicker, safety setback and decommissioning.
“They (the selectmen) need to review the pages, come to a consensus and move on,” said Puiia.
If the board meets the goal of bringing a proposed ordinance to townspeople 60 days before the annual town meeting on June 14, it will be around mid-April. A public hearing would need to take place 30 days before the vote.
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