RUMFORD – In a rare Sunday afternoon workshop, selectmen spent nearly three hours trying to broker compromises with each other while reviewing a new wind ordinance proposal.
After the original proposed ordinance widely believed to prohibit wind farms was defeated by a majority in November, the board agreed to work off the Maine State Planning Office wind ordinance template and alter it to fit town needs.
When it became apparent they wouldn’t finish before the current moratorium on wind projects expires on May 26, some who crafted the defeated ordinance suggested they instead work from and change desired sections of that already reviewed ordinance.
Selectman Jeff Sterling took that initiative and reduced the defeated 41-page ordinance to a 28-page proposal, removing some sections altogether and altering other language and distances.
On Sunday he said he tried to simplify the document so voters could better understand it. He also based changes on previous board discussions, past meetings with a state environmental protection engineer, Rumford’s site plan review law and wind ordinances from other towns.
Chairman Brad Adley, Sterling and Selectman Mark Belanger have advocated for a “fair” ordinance that would be fair to the wind industry, instead of singling it out and exempting other industries.
Sterling said he tried to accomplish that.
“We felt that the reason the one in November was defeated was that it was too restrictive, so I didn’t try to make this one that restrictive,” he said.
During the review, it quickly became apparent that the board remains split 3-2 on many issues. They didn’t vote on anything, because that can’t be done in a workshop.
Essentially, Selectmen Jeremy Volkernick and Greg Buccina wanted to restore much of what Sterling removed or changed from the defeated proposal, including things like shadow flicker standards, banning blade glint, safety setbacks for sound and turbine collapses, etc.
Sterling’s proposal limits the annual duration of shadow flicker to no more than 24 hours. The original proposal restricted it to no more than 10 hours.
Sterling removed the blade glint restriction altogether, prompting Volkernick and Buccina to want it returned.
“That could be just as much of a problem as shadows,” Buccina said.
Belanger argued that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t even recognize blade glint.
“That doesn’t mean we can’t have that in there,” Buccina said.
Sterling’s proposal also establishes 2,000 feet as the setback for wind turbines from dwellings and any scenic or special resource.
Buccina and Volkernick wanted greater setbacks of up to 5,280 feet from property lines instead.
“This (defeated) ordinance was written for the safety and well-being of residents, so if we give the lower amount, are we really looking out for the safety and well-being?” Volkernick asked.
At one point, Sterling told Volkernick that if he wanted to propose changes to put them in writing like he did.
Then Buccina told Volkernick not to bother because the other three wouldn’t vote for it anyway, which prompted disagreement from Sterling.
Later, Volkernick and Buccina said the ordinance should limit developers to a certain number of turbines. That language wasn’t in either ordinance proposal.
“Do we choose to have 200 of these things in Rumford?” Volkernick asked.
Belanger said that’s up to the landowner.
Volkernick then set a limit of 12 turbines.
“If it’s not going to lower my taxes, I don’t want to see another 100 go up,” he said.
“I think it would be good to limit towers within the first five years to see how the ordinance is working,” Buccina said.
Sterling said that essentially puts a moratorium on any other such projects when Rumford doesn’t likewise restrict any other industry. Adley and Belanger said they wouldn’t support it.
Buccina then left for work, while Sterling and Adley wanted proposals from the public.
Puiia said they could be sent to his office and that he could put both the defeated ordinance and Sterling’s proposal online for all to review.
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