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Debate on wind energy blows Downeast; Public input laws considered

When industrial-scale projects come to an area they are required to conform to specific zoning regulations. If the company seeks to apply for rezoning, part of the process includes public hearings. Prior to 2008 this procedure was the case in the state’s unorganized territories (UT) and municipalities. While two‑thirds of the state’s UTs still enjoy the protection of the public process of hearings that is linked to such large‑scale projects, hearings are no longer required in one‑third of the UTs in the state, including Trescott Township, for large‑scale wind energy development. An expedited wind energy development bill was passed in 2008 that took away that right. It turns out many residents of the UTs affected were unaware of the change in the law.

On the morning of February 1 Rep. Katherine Cassidy was at the Cobscook Community Learning Center in Trescott to educate a roomful of Washington County residents about the bill LD 616, which was introduced in 2013 and is up before the legislature this winter. The bill, An Act to Amend the Expedited Permitting Area for Wind Energy Development under the Jurisdiction of the Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC), seeks to address the loss of access to the right to public input in this particular situation. Cassidy’s district includes communities from Cutler to Eastport and includes the UT of Trescott Township.

While there are many UTs in the county, not all of them fall under the 2008 law, adding to a level of confusion about why some UT residents receive the right to a public hearing on large‑scale wind energy land use development and others do not. In her testimony to the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology presented on January 13, Cassidy said, “Citizens of Trescott Township have an immediate and legitimate interest in seeing the defects and inequities of the expedited siting area law corrected. … They realize that their rights of participation in public discourse that could irrevocably shape their community were revoked while those of other communities were not.”

In 2013 when LD 616 came up in the legislature, Cassidy ruefully explained that she voted against it, and she fears that her fellow legislators on the Democrat side may well vote no again when the bill comes up within the next month or so. Thus her work to educate citizens, she said. “I didn’t understand it,” she explained to the group of area residents. After learning more about the bill, she explained that at her 2013 vote she thought it was a bill that was against the development of wind energy. That is not the case, she told the group. The bill will allow UT communities that in 2008 were swept into the expedited permit area to petition the Maine Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) through a stepped procedure to remove their UT from that status and into a process that allows for public hearings. If LD 616 passes, UT communities would have up to two years to go through the stipulated process to regain the right to public hearings when it comes to large‑scale wind energy development.

The need for public action does not have to be relegated to UT residents only, Cassidy said. She urged neighbors from bordering communities that do have the right to public hearings for large‑scale wind energy developments to call in their support of the bill to the House of Representatives’ Office of the Clerk, where messages may be left for specific legislators.

February 23 meeting set

On Sunday, February 23, a public informational meeting on LD 616 will be held at 2 p.m. at the Edmunds Consolidated School. The citizen group hopes that the meeting will help residents of Trescott, Edmunds, Marion, Baring and Fowler townships and elsewhere become aware of the legislation, and how their local actions can direct the Washington County delegation and influence the full legislature. The group has invited Senator Dave Burns, Rep. Katherine Cassidy, Rep. Joyce Maker, Rep. Larry Lockman and Rep. Beth Turner. Also invited is County Manager Betsy Fitzgerald, who was recently approved as the newest member of LUPC.

For more information about LD 616 and the legislator contact list, call Mike Smith at 733‑2917 or Heidi Herzberger at 733‑4688. The House of Representatives’ Office of the Clerk may be reached at 287‑1400.