FRANKFORT, Maine – Voters in the small Waldo County town have a big decision to make on Election Day, when they decide whether to repeal the strict wind ordinance that narrowly was accepted three years ago and replace it with the state’s model wind energy ordinance.
If voters in the community of about 1,100 approve the item on the Nov. 4 ballot, it will open the door for Portsmouth-based Eolian Renewable Energy to return to Frankfort with another proposal to build a $30 million, six-turbine wind development atop Mount Waldo. The wind ordinance, the first land-use ordinance adopted in Frankfort, was enacted in 2011 in response to a years-long effort by Eolian to build a development there.
This time around, Eolian company officials have tried be more clear about what they will do for Frankfort if the development is built, including paying $100,000 to the town each year in a community benefits package. They also have guaranteed they will pay a minimum of $250,000 in taxes to the town each year for 20 years.
“We have spent a lot of time walking around Frankfort, talking to folks about the ordinance, about the community benefits package and about the tax implications to the town. That has been our primary focus,” Eolian CEO Jack Kenworthy said Tuesday. “It’s clear to us that there’s a lot of support. It’s also clear that there’s opposition in town.”
A Facebook page titled the “Town of Frankfort, Maine, Community Page,” which is not run by the town, has become a venue for residents to share their thoughts about the wind project. Many of the comments written there are vehemently opposed to Eolian.
“Promises are short-lived, damage to the environment is permanent,” one man wrote last week.
Frankfort resident MaryBeth Hewett said the vote next week will be “extremely critical” for the community. Among her concerns are doubts Eolian would follow through with its promises and fears the turbines would cause a great deal of damage on Mount Waldo.
“The decision to allow an industrial wind turbine company from out of state to come in to a small town like Frankfort, in my opinion, would be devastating to the town,” she said. “It has been an extremely divisive issue that the town never asked for, but it’s here.”
Others in town would like to see the project built, including Chester Martin, who said he would be proud to have it come to Frankfort.
“Wind power works and will be used for a very long time to come,” he said. “By denying the merit of renewable resources and running a smear campaign, those opposed to wind power are establishing nothing but a bad reputation. Meanwhile, communities across our nation and the world will be reaping the benefits of harnessing the wind to solve human energy needs.”
Last week, the Frankfort Select Board held a public hearing to discuss how the state model ordinance would differ from the current ordinance. But efforts Tuesday to speak to a board member about the hearing or the upcoming vote were stymied by a town policy that selectmen only speak to members of the media between 6 and 9 p.m. Mondays.
The current ordinance required a setback of 1 mile from the turbines to each property line of a landowner who is not participating in the wind project. It also strictly limited turbine noise at the property boundary, allowing up to 45 decibels during the day and 32 decibels at night.
The state model wind ordinance requires a setback of 150 percent of the full height of the turbine and would allow up to 42 decibels at night, as measured from protected locations in the area around the turbines, such as houses.
Kenworthy said Tuesday the six turbines likely would be between 450 and 500 feet tall.
Earlier this fall, several residents said the acrimonious, lengthy debate about the Eolian project the first time around is still a fresh memory in Frankfort, where some neighbors still are not on speaking terms because they disagreed.
Mount Waldo is privately owned and features power lines, a rough road to the top and three tall cellphone towers, which wind project advocates say makes it a good spot for the development. But opponents decry it as a location, saying it is much too close to homes and that residents would suffer from low-frequency noise and the flicker effect.
Perhaps the only thing Frankfort residents can agree on is the hope that there will be a large turnout on Election Day.
Rep. James Gillway, R-Searsport, whose district includes Frankfort, said Tuesday he is a huge believer in home rule.
“Frankfort should absolutely muster up its residents,” he said, and let the majority rule. “I support that process so strongly. It truly is their decision.”