May 1, 2012

Sumner wind ordinance ready for hearing, vote

Tom Standard, Special to the Sun Journal, 1 May 2012

SUMNER – After nearly a year of often contentious debate, the town’s Industrial Wind Ordinance Committee members showed a spirit of conciliation and compromise in their final meeting.

They unanimously accepted the version of the proposed Industrial Wind Energy Facility Ordinance arrived at in their three-hour meeting Thursday. Selectmen were in attendance and certified the ordinance as well.

Next up, townspeople will weigh in during a public hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 2, at the Fire Station. A special town meeting is set for Wednesday, May 16, to vote on it.

The town was approached last year with an informal proposal by Clear Sky Energy LLC of Barnstable, Mass., to erect five wind turbines on Spruce Hills, which includes, Mount Tom in the southwest area of town off Decoster Road.

The town passed a moratorium on developments last year and charged the committee with drafting an ordinance to regulate them. The moratorium expires in June.

Marianne Todd, chairwoman of the Sumner Emergency Management Committee, said without the ordinance that state rules will apply, and they provide significantly less protection for residents,.

In an email to neighbors she said, “We need to have an ordinance in place so the wind companies can’t put the turbines within 600 feet from your residence or mine.”

The setback from the base of a wind tower to the property line of nonparticipating tracts was debated hotly at public hearings, Industrial Wind Ordinance Committee meetings and generally in the town.

“We all realize and understand the ordinance is for the entire town, not simply written for any certain group of individuals. The setback of 1 mile may still be too much for some and not nearly enough for others. It is the opinion of the IWOC and is supported by significant research as well as the setback utilized by at least 15 other towns in the State of Maine who have enacted ordinances that a 1 mile setback is adequate and protects all,” said Industrial Wind Ordinance Committee Chairwoman Kathy Emery.

The wind power developer will have to reach agreements with all land owners who have property within one mile of a tower.

The “complaint” section of the ordinance requires the code enforcement officer to investigate and take action on all complaints. The town has access to sound measurements taken at the periphery and other locations on the wind farm and can call in experts, if needed, to support resident’s complaints.

Provision is made to modify the operation of the facility or even shut it down if it does not comply with the ordinance.

The proposed ordinance includes a section on appeals that was drafted by member Laurence O’Rourke. It gives the Sumner Board of Appeals shall have the power to hear and decide appeals, and their bylaws shall govern the appeal process.

Much of the conflict in the committee’s proceedings centered on retired teacher Lana Pratt and retired FBI agent and law school graduate Jeff Pfeiffer. Feelings ran so high that many of the committee threatened to resign if Pfeiffer was not removed.

Pfeiffer hired an attorney at his expense to review sections of the draft ordinance that he felt exposed Sumner to significant loss if a developer challenged the ordinance in court, as has happened in other towns.

In a sign of their appreciation for the cooperative spirit shown by the committee at its final meeting, Pratt and Pfeiffer said selectmen and the wind committee patched the remaining holes in the ordinance to protect the town from an expensive lawsuit. “We are very grateful.”

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