BANGOR, Maine – The owners of Rebel Hill Farm filed an appeal in Penobscot County Superior Court in March 2012 to stop the permitted five-turbine Pisgah Mountain wind farm, and on Tuesday the lawyers gave oral arguments in the case.
After hearing from the attorneys for the farm owners, the town and the developer, Justice Andrew M. Horton determined there was some controversy about where sound receptors were located and told the two parties to submit a brief describing their locations by next Wednesday.
“It’s obviously an issue of importance to all of those concerned,” the Business and Consumer Court judge said at the end of the oral arguments.
The Clifton planning board unanimously approved the $25 million wind farm in October 2011 – after a nearly three-year process. To fight the project, farmers Peter and Julie Beckford asked the town’s board of appeals to review the planning board’s approval, citing 11 items they contended the planners did not fully consider. The appeals board denied their appeal on Jan. 25, 2012, and the Beckfords filed their Superior Court appeal on March 15, 2012.
Since then, hundreds of pages of supporting documents have been filed by both the Beckfords and Pisgah Mountain LLC, which is made up of Bangor residents Paul and Sandy Fuller, his brother-in-law Mike Smith, and Clifton residents John and Eileen Williams.
Eric Mehnert, with Katherine Hutchinson as co-counsel, spoke for the Beckfords; Bill Devoe, with Jon Pottle as co-counsel, represented Pisgah Mountain LLC; and David Szewczyk was on hand for the town.
Mehnert argued pre-construction sound figures were not submitted, that the planning board reached beyond its scope when granting waivers, that two cabins put up on the Beckford’s land are within the 4,000-foot wind tower setbacks, that the developer never submitted isocontour maps, along with other complaints.
Szewczyk handled the setbacks portion of the arguments and told the judge that the cabins put up by the Beckfords went up after the project’s permit application was already in the works.
“Once an application is pending, a change shall not affect it,” he said.
Devoe countered the other arguments, which mostly dealt with sound levels. He said since the town, the Beckfords and the developer all hired their own sound consultants, many of the Beckfords’ arguments about rules regarding the sound calculations are void. The other items of contention were answered in pages and pages of submitted documents, he said.
Several Clifton planning board members and about 20 residents from town attended the appellate court hearing. The wind towers are expected to generate approximately $295,000 annually in property taxes and another $5,000 per megawatt through a community benefit offered by the partners that adds another $45,000 annually to town coffers.
“The judge had a lot to figure out,” Paul Fuller said after court adjourned.
The appeal has basically stopped all work on the mountain, he said.
“We continue to monitor the winds,” Fuller said. “We can’t take another step until the appeal is finished.”
Peter Beckford, who grows and sells native perennial plants and maple syrup from the small farm he runs with his wife, said the fight to protect his livelihood has been “endless.”
“What is happening in Clifton is why [other] towns are slamming the door on industrial wind development,” he said.
The couple’s farm is about 4,500 feet from where the wind turbines would be installed.
After Horton has a chance to review the nearly 2,000 pages of court documents filed in the case he’ll issue a written decision on whether the Superior Court appeal is granted or denied.
“It should be in the not-too-distant future,” the judge said.