BRISTOL, Maine – The vast majority of some 300 Bristol residents at a special town meeting Wednesday, Oct. 1, voted against allowing an offshore wind project to connect to the grid in Bristol.
The residents packed the Bristol Consolidated School gym for the vote, the first formal, townwide vote regarding Maine Aqua Ventus I since the project’s genesis. About 15 to 20 holdouts voted against the measure.
The Bristol Board of Selectmen has warned, however, that the vote, the result of a petition, is likely nonbinding.
Early feedback from town counsel and an attorney with the Maine Municipal Association indicates that such a ban lies outside the scope of the town’s regulatory authority, according to Board of Selectmen Chairman Chad Hanna.
Hanna said the town would conduct a thorough legal review if the ban passed.
The Maine Aqua Ventus I project would consist of two floating wind turbines in a test site about 3 miles south of Monhegan and 12 miles southeast of Bristol. The turbines would deliver electricity to the mainland via an undersea cable.
The question read, “Shall the citizens of Bristol allow the placement within our town of high-powered transmission cables to connect the grid to the Monhegan wind power test project?”
Local opposition to the project has focused on the cable between the turbines and the mainland. Bristol fishermen say the cable will have a negative impact on fisheries in general and shrimp draggers in particular.
Other area residents oppose the project for aesthetic reasons – they fear the turbines will ruin sweeping ocean views – and out of concern for bird life, among other matters.
The controversy around the project might prove a moot point, however, as the University of Maine-led partnership behind the project currently lacks the funds to move the turbines to construction.
Bristol voters approved a related amendment to the shoreland zoning ordinance at the special town meeting. The amendment institutes a permit process for shoreland zone “utility installations” such as a turbine-to-shore cable.
The voters also approved an amendment to the harbor ordinance that empowers harbormasters to deal with abandoned vessels, and approved a proposal to take $2,000 from surplus for legal fees.
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