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Farmington argues about turbine rules

FARMINGTON – Voters on Monday overwhelmingly passed a town ordinance regulating wind energy projects in the community, despite some residents saying stricter guidelines should be adopted.

Voters also passed an ordinance regulating medical marijuana clinics and dispensaries, setting rules on where they can open in town. The ordinance was approved without much discussion and adds Farmington to many Maine communities that have enacted similar ordinances.

The wind ordinance adds rules for turbine noise, setbacks and other wind-energy issues to the town’s zoning ordinance.

Because these projects are otherwise regulated by state guidelines, many Maine communities have enacted ordinances to take more control.

Resident Burt Knapp addressed the roughly 100 people at the annual Town Meeting before the vote Monday night. He said the wind ordinance failed to protect residents from problems that turbines have created in other communities.

Knapp, who owns Porter Hill Farm, asked residents to defeat the ordinance and fast track a vote calling on town officials to draft a version with more stringent rules on turbine noise and setbacks.

His comments sparked a debate about how wind energy projects affect a community.

Most of the residents used the example of a plan to build wind turbines on farmland on Bailey Hill Road in town. Aeronautica Windpower, a Plymouth, Mass., wind energy company, is considering building four 298-foot-tall commercial wind turbines at the site.

Konrad Bailey, who owns the farm, responded to Knapp’s claims, saying the project on his farm is still in the planning stages. He said the project would meet the guidelines in the ordinance.

The company presented its initial proposal to town residents and has waited for the community to address the ordinance issue before proceeding, Bailey said. He added the company could have pushed forward before the vote but didn’t want to “cram this down the town’s throat.”

Company officials are still doing research to determine whether the project will move forward at the site. They plan to work with town officials and residents in the coming months to set up more informational meetings before submitting any permit applications, a company spokesman said Tuesday.

Planning Board members worked on the ordinance for 18 months, hoping to regulate commercial projects more closely while allowing people to pursue residential projects, some members said at the meeting Monday.

Two categories basically separate smaller turbines for personal use from larger models, which can reach more than 400 feet tall, used by commercial entities.

Tom Eastler, a planning board member, told residents that without an ordinance, the town had no control over wind energy developers. He said the version passed Monday is a strong starting point, and the town can make adjustments in the future.