August 4, 2011

Wind factions struggle in Sumner

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling, 4 August 2011

SUMNER – In the latest move in an ongoing struggle to regulate wind power in Sumner, the town’s Industrial Wind Ordinance Committee (IWOC) unanimously affirmed member Jeff Pfeifer’s decision to call a July 10 emergency meeting.

Members of both IWOC and the Board of Selectmen had criticized the event, which Pfeifer called with three hours notice on a Sunday to meet with Richard James, a mechanical engineer who has campaigned for tougher noise limits on wind turbines. James had a limited window of availability to meet with the committee.

On July 28, Pfeifer distributed, to IWOC members, an email exchange between Pfeifer and Maine Municipal Association attorney Richard Flewelling, in which Flewelling wrote “I believe [the meeting] was a bona fide emergency meeting and that public notice of that meeting was given in compliance with applicable law.”

After receiving the exchange, IWOC voted to exonerate Pfeifer of any charges of wrongdoing.

“I have learned that the July 10th meeting was in fact a legal emergency IWOC meeting,” IWOC Chair Dan Perron wrote in a public statement. Perron had not attended the meeting, based on a prior belief that it was improperly held.

Cumbersome process

The process of drafting the ordinance has been greatly scrutinized, as IWOC members seek to precisely define the limits of acceptable involvement from members of the Board of Selectmen.

For example, the Board and an IWOC subcommittee drafted guidelines for informational meetings in which parties for and against wind farms could answer questions.

IWOC voted to endorse a separate set of parameters, and the matter has been sent back to the board for further negotiations.

Other items of contention include the ability of IWOC subcommittees to contact wind power company Clear Sky Energy directly, whether the drafted ordinance could be altered by the board of selectmen, and whether selectman should have the right to post comments on the IWOC Facebook page.

Member Larry O’Rourke warned that the cumbersome process may moving too slowly to create a workable ordinance by the end of the six-month moratorium that was approved by town voters June 6.

“This is a six-month moratorium,” he said. “We’re a third of the way through it. We wanted two informational meetings, and we haven’t had one yet.”

Power struggle

While moderates expressed an interest in maintaining a good working relationship between the board and IWOC, several members of IWOC made disparaging comments about the board.

For example, in explaining the reason he hadn’t accomplished a particular task yet, Pfeifer said that it would have already been done, were it not for “the interference of the selectboard.”

One member suggested holding an informational session in competition with the board’s public hearing on wind power.

“Why don’t we have our own meeting up at Jerry’s place and make it a bash,” he said.

IWOC member John Allen said that “this has been kind of a rigged game from the beginning.”

Selectmen Glenn Hinckley and Mark Silber have stated that they support wind power, which has raised complaints from IWOC members.

Board Chair Mary Ann Haxton, the only board member in attendance, said that Silber and Hinckley are not acting in the service of Clear Sky Energy, the company which has expressed interest in a Sumner-based project.

“The fact that both Glen and Mark are in support of the idea of wind … is not the same as being in the pocket of Clear Sky,” said Haxton. She said that to infer her colleagues were “cozy or friends with” the company would be an inaccurate statement.

Financial interests

Allen expressed concern that citizens would be tempted to support the proposal based on the financial benefits to themselves, and the town.

“Some people smell a little money, smell a little blood, like weasels, you know, they lose their mind and they go for it,” said John Allen.

He said that, once people become attached to the idea of benefiting from the project, it would be difficult to change their minds.

“Somebody says they’re going to give me a $10,000 tax break, well I won’t take a $10,000 tax break, because I’m not so easy to buy,” said Allen. “… [For] some people, that’d be enough to say ‘okay, well I don’t want to hear any more.'”

Allen said that people should listen to both sides of the debate with an open mind.

“Most people, when they make up their mind are not very bright about trying to gather alternative information,” he said. “… This is just human nature.”

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