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Board OKs yet another 180-day moratorium on wind projects

RUMFORD – By a 5-0 vote, selectmen agreed Thursday night to extend the current moratorium on wind power projects another 180 days.

The current moratorium expires on Wednesday, July 27, after which the new one will begin.

Getting to that decision, however, took a lot of off-topic discussion during a public hearing and the regular board meeting that followed.

Consensus was strong at the 5:30 p.m. public hearing to extend a moratorium against wind projects until an ordinance could be developed to regulate them.

However, the public hearing was run more like a selectmen’s workshop for most of the 60-minute meeting, with the board discussing the process to create an ordinance rather than fielding public comments about the moratorium.

Late in the hearing, Town Manager Carlo Puiia reminded the board that the topic was the moratorium and not figuring out how to resume work to create a third proposed ordinance.

“This is a public hearing for extending the moratorium and not the process,” he said.

“If we don’t have an ordinance, we will have to rely on Department of Environmental Protection standards. We will have no local control.”

At the hearing’s start on the sweltering third floor of Rumford Falls Auditorium, Chairman Greg Buccina set the ground rules.

“We’re not here to discuss the pros and cons of wind power,” he said. “We need to look for a path forward on whether we draft another ordinance.”

And from there, the board zoomed off topic. One selectmen after the other gave their take on the process and why they thought two attempts at creating an ordinance were defeated by the same percentage of voters last November and in June.

Selectman Jeff Sterling said the two failures represented bookends: one that was deemed too permissive, the other (the first ordinance) deemed too prohibitive.

He suggested taking the defeated second ordinance – which he crafted from the first ordinance and ordinances from other towns – and adding “stuff” back into it.

Selectman Jolene Lovejoy disagreed, saying no one could say why the voters defeated both ordinance proposals.

She suggested educating residents more. She also wanted the original Wind Power Advisory Committee that was formed by selectmen to create a third attempt.

Selectman Jeremy Volkernick, the only board member to start on topic, said he favored extending the moratorium so that selectmen could finish what they started.

“I think we’re 75 percent there,” he said.

He then suggested pulling information from both defeated ordinances to create a third proposal.

“Refine the one that failed and I think it will pass,” Volkernick said.

Selectman Brad Adley suggested that perhaps townspeople don’t want an ordinance and are content to leave that control up to the state.

“We failed miserably and it got into everything else,” he said.

That’s when resident and former longtime selectman Jim Thibodeau tried to change discussion back to the hearing.

“You all are having a discussion amongst yourselves,” he said. “I thought this was a public hearing.”

Buccina said he never told the public they couldn’t speak up.

Thibodeau then sided with Lovejoy and dissed the board’s second-guessing of why the two ordinance proposals were rejected.

“Unless you’re God and can walk on water, no one can say why those two ordinances got voted down,” he said.

Thibodeau also asked that the board not discount the first ordinance proposal on which he worked.

“We were light years ahead of the second ordinance,” he said. “We do need an ordinance and I think the people want an ordinance.”

Resident Candice Casey said the town doesn’t have people qualified to create a wind power ordinance and suggested leaving that up to the state. She didn’t want to extend the moratorium.

Resident and businessman Roger Arsenault wants selectmen and the Advisory Committee, of which he was a member, to work together on the third proposal “to create an ordinance for the best interests of the town.”

Thibodeau said he disagreed with Casey, believing there are qualified people who can craft a wind ordinance that a majority could approve.