FRANKFORT, Maine – The town’s proposed wind ordinance has pitted neighbor against neighbor, sparked debates and livened up morning coffee at the local convenience store.
And not always in a good way, according to Tony Fucillo, owner of the Family Country Market on U.S. Route 1A.
“This has really turned into a town-splitting activity. I’ve been here for eight years and I’ve never seen such arguments,” he said Wednesday.
He and others are hoping that when residents finally vote on the controversial ordinance Thursday, Dec. 1, it will ease some of the tensions that have been riling Frankforters since officials from small, New Hampshire-based Eolian Renewable Energy months ago proposed building a four- to six-turbine project atop Mount Waldo.
“This is just not Frankfort, Maine,” Fucillo said. “Frankfort is the type of town where, if something happens to you, there will be 50 people on your doorstep waiting to help you. I hope that doesn’t go away.”
Voters who head to the Frankfort Elementary School Thursday to cast their ballots in favor of, or against, the proposed ordinance will be faced with a stark choice.
Proponents of the strictly written ordinance say that it is necessary to protect the physical health, emotional well-being and property rights of those abutting the leased land where the turbines would be placed.
“How many neighbors are we willing to throw under the bus if this project goes forward without an ordinance that will actually protect our community?” Steve Imondi, the co-chairman of the committee that wrote Frankfort’s wind ordinance, wrote in a BDN op-ed piece published Nov. 23.
But opponents believe that the ordinance, which would be the first land-use regulation to be enacted in the town, goes too far. As written, it would create a setback of one mile from the turbines to each property line of a nonparticipating landowner. Turbine noise would be limited to 45 decibels during the day and 32 decibels at night, as measured at the property boundary. The local ordinance would supersede the current state statute which allows up to 45 decibels between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. as measured from houses and other “protected locations” within one mile of turbines.
Also in contrast, some other communities in the state, such as Eastbrook and Dixmont, require setbacks of a mile from an occupied building. The state’s own proposed model ordinance would require a setback of 150 percent of the height of the turbine. Eolian has proposed its own setback of three times the height of the turbines to the nearest occupied buildings.
“Unfortunately, the ordinance drafted by the self-appointed review committee would, if approved, do exactly what it was designed and intended to do – prevent windpower,” wrote Eolian Renewable Energy’s Jack Kenworthy and Travis Bullard in their own BDN op-ed piece published on Nov. 25.
Company officials have said that the $25 million project would generate a minimum of $100,000 in tax revenue for Frankfort each year for 20 years, which would equal at least $2 million over 20 years.
But that’s not the major reason that lifelong Frankfort resident Paul Emerson is against passing the wind ordinance.
“With me, it is landowners’ rights. That’s the big issue,” he said. “And Frankfort is basically an ordinance-free town. Once you start, it’s a snowball effect. You’ll end up like Hampden or somewhere. You’d lose control of your own property.”
He said that he’s not sure how the vote will go. There are a lot of signs in favor of the ordinance, but he also talks with a lot of people who are opposed.
“I would say it’s going to be a pretty close race,” he said.
Judy Staples, a resident who supports the wind ordinance, agrees with Emerson that the outcome feels hard to predict.
“I think a lot of people in Frankfort are afraid the ordinance is going to control more than wind power. Frankfort has always been anti-zoning,” she said Wednesday afternoon. “But [the proposed ordinance] only pertains to wind power.”
Fucillo carefully emphasized his neutrality on the issue. For every sign in favor of the ordinance that is put up outside his store, there is a sign against it.
“We’re not picking sides. We just want people to go back to normal,” he said.
For Staples, the most important consideration is her concern about the people who will be living close to the wind project. She hopes there will be a great turnout at the day-long vote.
“People need to make a stand. They need to make a decision and vote,” she said.
Residents can vote on the wind ordinance from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1, at the Frankfort Elementary School. The ordinance can be viewed at the town office.
Information about the wind ordinance review committee is available at: www.friendsofwaldomountain.org.
Information about the Waldo County wind project is available at: www.waldocommunitywind.com.