MOSCOW – Nearly 20 percent of the town’s registered voters braved a snowstorm Monday night to fill the elementary school gymnasium and smooth the way not just for future wind power development but a possible partnering business.
Residents at the annual Town Meeting overwhelmingly rejected a proposed 180-day halt to any wind turbine development, which would have allowed time to possibly tighten the town’s current turbine regulations.
The 59-9 vote to dismiss the moratorium was made after one prospective developer, the president of Cianbro Corporation, told the crowd he would not construct a wind farm in the northern, sparsely populated part of town if residents didn’t want him to.
Peter Vigue, president of the civil and heavy industrial construction company based in Pittsfield, has partnered with Larry Warren, who operates both Maine Windpower LLC and Maine Huts and Trails, to possibly purchase 1,200 acres at the former radar site and build a wind farm on the hills in the area. Two testing poles are currently gathering wind data in Moscow and Caratunk.
“It’s either going to be a win-win, and people smile on both sides, or I’m out of here,” Vigue said. “I only want to participate in opportunities or projects whereby the community accepts it.”
When one resident asked Vigue if he would accept federal grant money to fund his turbine project, he said he’s been on his own since he was 12-years-old and, “I’ll die before I take a handout.”
The former radar facility, currently owned by the federal government, hasn’t generated taxes for more than 30 years, Vigue said; a business, however, would. The federal General Services Administration is set to auction off the property, starting at $860,000, this summer.
Vigue and Warren spoke publicly for the first time Monday about pairing their potential wind farm with an enterprise that will bring jobs to the town, which has no grocery store or gas station. The two are working to identify a business and entice it with cheap electricity, Warren said.
“This community is not attracting investment. This is symptomatic statewide,” Vigue said, adding that the only way for the northern part of Maine to reverse the trend of a shrinking population and to retain young people is to create jobs. His comments brought applause from residents.
Vigue and Warren have already tagged three potential business types that could benefit from inexpensive, pre-transmitted power in Moscow, Warren said. One is hydroponics – a technology for growing plants in water containing fertilizers. The second is hydrogen fuel conversion systems, where hydrogen is extracted from water and used as a fuel. The third is wood composites, which are made by binding pieces of wood together, such as plywood.
The current ordinance in town requires wind turbines to be about half a mile away from any permanent or seasonal residence. If the setback limit were increased, it would essentially create no room for wind turbines, former selectman Maynard Lagasse said as he drew black lines on a map of Moscow for residents to see the small space left for development.
Lagasse’s 33 years a selectman came to an end when residents voted in opponent and former long-time selectman Elvin “Al” Hawes. Hawes received 90 votes; Christopher Ingersoll, 27; Lagasse, 22, in the election Monday.
“This is a very economically depressed area,” First Selectman Donald Beane said. “Young people are leaving; homes are being sold, and people are buying them to use as camps … Something needs to be done.
“The answer is not to delay what needs to be done or make it so restrictive that no one will have an interest to come here,” he said. “I urge you to join me in voting ‘no’ on this article.”
Selectman Michael Staples added, “This is not just about industry. This is about what major industry wind could bring to us.”
Some residents had questions about the potential wind farm, such as whether blasting would harm Wyman Dam. Vigue said there was no threat to the dam.
Resident Lynne Cates said she worried about her view. “We have a camp where we could spit on Cow Mountain. The last thing we want to see up there is a wind tower,” she said.
Town officials responded that Cow Mountain is in Caratunk and is beyond their area of jurisdiction.
There were about 68 voters at town meeting, with nearly 80 people attending. There are 364 registered voters in Moscow.
After an hour of debate on the proposed wind moratorium, residents took another hour to approve a 2011 budget of $436,200. They cut $500 from the hut building program to bring the item in line with what had been requested; the additional $500 had mistakenly been added into the budget.
The final budget is .8 percent more than 2010 figures.
Residents spent time discussing whether to increase salaries for the secretary to selectmen and the person who fulfills the role of both treasurer and tax collector. They also discussed whether to increase payment for school board members and planning board members. All proposals to change the items from what was recommended by the budget committee did not pass.
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