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Rumford board OK’s one wind standard, tables 2 others

RUMFORD – Attempts Thursday night by selectmen to determine and approve three facets of an ordinance to regulate wind development, quickly got tabled when it became apparent they weren’t all on the same page.

After voting 3-2 to approve a safety setback of 600 feet for a wind turbine, the board became perplexed when former Selectman Jim Thibodeau asked from what they were providing the setback.

For several minutes there was a disconnect, which drew anguished concern from Thibodeau and some in the crowd. Thibodeau reacted with apparent disbelief that they didn’t understand what he was seeking.

“The setback is from what? An outhouse? A house? Your house? My house? What?” he kept repeating.

“It’s from the base of the turbine in case the tower falls,” Selectman Mark Belanger said.

“From the base to what?” Thibodeau asked.

Finally, Town Manager Carlo Puiia told selectmen that they hadn’t distinguished in their motion that the tower must be positioned so many feet from something specific like a property line or an occupied dwelling.

Then, without explaining to the public the language they were trying to approve – referring to it only as 12.1 – Selectman Jeff Sterling motioned to accept the safety setback in a Maine Department of Environmental Protection document. That was the 600 feet or 1.5 times the height of an extended turbine blade from the top of the tower to the ground.

They were trying to establish a safe distance should a turbine topple or its blades throw ice during winter.

Resident and businessman Roger Arsenault then asked the board to publish the language that they are proposing to approve so that people could see and comment on it beforehand.

“Otherwise, you’re passing something with the potential for a lot of loopholes in it,” he said. “This is a perfect example.”

Then, without rescinding the first vote, the board approved Sterling’s motion 3-2, with Selectmen Jeremy Volkernick and Greg Buccina objecting. Sterling, Brad Adley and Belanger OK’d it.

The board moved into the topic of shadow flicker, using ordinances from wind power projects that have yet to be operated to determine if those figures were accurate.

This would tell a developer how many hours are acceptable for turbine blades to cast shadow flicker when the sun rises or sets behind them depending on their placement.

Puiia explained that the MDEP standard is 30 hours per year.

Belanger wanted information in the document about the state’s Wind Pro model, which he said better defines shadow flicker than the State Planning Office wind ordinance template they are using for the basis of Rumford’s ordinance.

Resident Peter Buotte asked why the board chose documents from three projects that aren’t yet in existence.

“Wouldn’t it make sense to choose (language) from one in the works now?” he asked.

Selectmen previously asked Puiia to bring some ordinances before them to consider mining for information to use in Rumford’s ordinance.

Former Selectman Jolene Lovejoy asked, “Are you all sure of yourselves on these things?”

“We’re using the Maine State Planning Office model,” Adley replied. He was referring to a template that towns are meant to elaborate on to fit their needs and not to use verbatim as an actual working ordinance.

“This is very important to me,” Lovejoy said. “It’s about progress in some people’s eyes and hurting the town in other people’s eyes.”

Volkernick said he agreed with Lovejoy.

“I know we’re making a mistake, but the board voted and majority rules,” he said.

Belanger then suggested adopting the template as a draft ordinance and then amending it as needed when more time is available. He worried aloud the board didn’t have enough time between now and June to present a working ordinance.

After more discussion, on and off the topic, Sterling separately motioned to table both shadow flicker and decommissioning standards until the board has draft language to get to the public. They were approved 5-0.