CLIFTON, Maine – Walk through Rebel Hill Farm and the nearly 60 acres of woods that surround it, and it’s easy to see the “enchanted forest” that Peter and Julie Beckford call their backyard.
The couple, who grow and sell native perennial plants on their small farm, say the $25 million five-turbine wind farm planned on nearby Pisgah Mountain threatens their very livelihood.
To fight the wind farm project, the Beckfords asked the town’s board of appeals to review the planning board’s approval of the project, citing 11 items they contend the planners did not fully consider.
The appeals board decided late Wednesday to deny their appeal.
“We won’t be able to farm here if that project gets built,” Peter Beckford said recently. “Effectively, I would lose the future use of that land.”
The panel’s written ruling will be presented to the public 7 p.m. Monday at the town office.
The Beckfords have used their hands to built their homestead and dig the earth over the last 23 years, growing most of what they eat on Rebel Hill Farm and selling about 100 different types of perennials to make ends meet.
Bangor resident Paul Fuller and other Pisgah Mountain LLC partners gained unanimous planning board approval in October – after nearly three years in the planning process – to put up five Vestas V90 1.8 megawatt wind turbines on top of the 768-foot-high mountain. Once built, the windmills are expected to generate electricity for 3,000-4,000 Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. customers.
One of the biggest issues for the Beckfords is the two cabins on their property they put up this past summer.
After the buildings were completed, the Beckfords – who have said they built the cabins to protect their land – asked the planning board to redraw the setbacks for the turbines.
“The wind turbines have to be 4,000 feet from occupied structures,” Peter Beckford said at a public hearing in June.
The planning board and town code enforcement officer have said that the cabins were put up after the developer started the permit process. They have ruled that the small cabins, which lack water and sewer, are not occupied structures under the town’s rules.
The appeals board agreed with town planners and upheld the earlier decision.
One of the cabins is a 10-by-12 foot wooden building nestled in the woods with bunk beds made out of branches, a table, chair and wood stove. It is situated about 1,500 feet from the Beckfords’ home and 3,000 feet from the closest turbine location. It is just large enough to require a town permit.
The second wooden cabin is less than 100 square feet and therefore didn’t require a permit.
“This is a big project and in some way that trumps our building permit,” Beckford said.
The sound of the 455-foot-tall windmills, which will sit about 4,500 feet from the Beckfords’ home, is another major issue, Peter Beckford said, because they will ruin his garden sanctuary with their constant “whoop, whoop, whoop” sound. He described his family as “collateral damage” of the wind farm.
“Our gardens are just beyond the setbacks, just beyond the 4,000 feet,” he said. “I can’t work in the garden with that noise and the low frequency noise I won’t be hearing.”
Noise made by commercial wind turbines is one of the biggest issues Mainers have had with the state’s rapidly growing wind energy industry.
Turbine noise is a problem in places such as Mars Hill and Freedom because homes in those communities are as close as 1,500 feet – the minimum state setback – from the windmills, Fuller said. That is way too close, he said.
“The reason our facility can pass some very strict sound ordinance rules is probably because we have some of the largest setbacks in the state at 4,300 feet,” the distance between the turbines and the nearest house on Rebel Hill Road, Fuller said.
The town’s rules double state standards for ambient sound and more than double setbacks between turbines and homes. Clifton leaders did this by restricting wind sound levels to 45 decibels at night and 55 decibels during the day anywhere within 4,000 feet. The state allows those noise levels out to a mile, or 5,280 feet, Planning Board Chairman Eric Johns explained.
By shortening the distance, “we took the sound … 10 decibels below the state’s restriction,” he said.
Beckford says he believes town officials had already made their decision to support the wind project before it was permitted and well before he approached them eight months ago about his cabins and moving the setbacks.
“My feeling is the town government, the town bodies, wanted this project and they were going to do everything they could to see that it would happen,” he said.
Whether the couple will take the fight to the next level, Penobscot County Superior Court, is still up in the air, according to Beckford, who said the battle against the project has consumed his family’s life.