Controversy in Clifton over separate dates for votes on wind farm setbacks and land use rule changes
CLIFTON, Maine – The wording of a local referendum to increase wind farm setbacks to 4,000 feet – or three-quarters of a mile – from property lines that will go before voters on June 10 is fueling another controversy in town.
The original plan was to have locals cast ballots on June 10 on both the citizens’ petition to increase setbacks and on amendments to the approximately 200-page land use ordinance, but it was discovered earlier this month that planners did not provide the town clerk with the needed 45-day notice to get the amendment vote on the same ballot.
A second vote is now planned for July 1 for the proposed land use amendments, which has upset petitioners enough that they asked town selectmen on Wednesday to address it because their wording was designed to override the proposed land use amendments.
The last part of their local referendum question reads: “In addition, this provision shall be effective from the date of enactment by the [town of Clifton] irrespective of any other land use ordinance revisions … that are enacted on this same date.”
“The [ Clifton Taskforce on Wind] argues in its objection that the citizen petition setback amendment that was filed to be voted on June 10 is harmed by the town’s postponement of the vote on the revised land use ordinance until July 1,” task force member Paula Kelso said in a Thursday email. “The harm results from the circumstance that an affirmative vote on June 10 … would be potentially negated by an affirmative vote on July 1.”
The current wind farm rules require 4,000-foot setbacks from residences and sound levels that are more strict than required by the state, Clifton Planning Board Chairman Eric Johns has said. Johns was upset at the May 8 meeting when he learned the proposed amendments would not be on the June 10 ballot, especially in light of the fact that planners have been working on them since January and the date has been posted for months on the town’s website.
He said late Thursday that the proposed property line setback would be very restrictive to any wind farms in town.
“The 4,000 feet property line setback would require approximately 1,100 acres for one turbine or for a project similar to the one currently proposed by Bangor resident Paul Fuller (five 1.7 MW turbines) approximately 1,800 acres,” Johns said in an email.
The Pisgah Mountain wind farm, proposed by Fuller, his wife, Sandy, and local partners, was approved by Clifton planners in November 2011 but was opposed by local farmers Peter and Julie Beckford, who sued the town and developer.
Superior Court Justice Andrew Horton in December found in the Beckfords’ favor, saying the planning board did not follow the Clifton Land Use Code when it approved the project. Since then, planners have been working to update the land use code, and those proposed changes are on the July 1 ballot.
The developer also filed an appeal to the state’s highest court in January to overturn Horton’s ruling, the results of which are pending.
Selectmen made no decisions on the issue, except to accept the planning board’s recommendation that the June 10 vote ought not to pass.
The joint public hearing for the planning board and selectmen on both upcoming votes is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the town office.
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