When the citizens of Orland vote Jan. 20 on whether or not to put in place a 180-day moratorium regarding the town’s proposed industrial wind turbine project, they will have an opportunity to protect their friends and neighbors in North Orland and Dedham who will be the most affected by their close proximity to three turbines that would be raised atop Dodge Hill and Whites Mountain. Upwards of 500-feet high, with rotor blades comparable to the wingspan of a Boeing 747 jet, such towering industrial-scale machines will be completely incongruous in the unspoiled, rolling mountains of the rural, residential setting.
But when all is said and done, should the project go through, the majority of Orland and Dedham residents will be largely unaware and unaffected by the day-to-day visual and auditory presence of these turbines while the families in the 90-plus dwellings in North Orland and Dedham within one mile of the turbines could have their lives, and their properties, changed irrevocably for decades to come. Orland’s wind ordinance establishes a modest half-mile setback from a resident’s home, not property line, making it one of the weakest protective setbacks in the state. Ready access to transmission lines for the wind company, not the protection of these citizens, is apparently at the heart of the half-mile setback.
At a recent town meeting to consider the issue prior to the upcoming vote, both sides made their case with respect to key issues—wind turbine noise, visual impacts like “shadow flicker” and “blade glint,” decreased quality of life and potential health impacts caused by these physical effects, lowered property values, and scenic impact. But by meeting’s end, the only thing that was clear was that there is not enough clarity on these important issues to give an uncritical go-ahead to the project.
Proponents claim that the move to put a 180-day moratorium in place is simply an effort to kill the project, but what they are in effect saying is that the concerns of the families in North Orland and Dedham, who would literally be living with the turbines, ultimately do not measure up to a hoped-for sum of municipal tax revenue.
Proponents of the project say supporters of the moratorium have not “proven” that the town’s wind ordinance is deficient. It should not be the burden of those who will be most affected by a large-scale industrial energy project to prove anything. They are not wind engineers, they do not have deep pockets to hire wind-savvy lawyers to make their case, they are ordinary citizens who want to protect their properties and continue living their lives in the peace and quiet that defines the area in which they chose to reside.
Ultimately, the burden is on elected town officials to hear the voice of all the townspeople and ensure all the citizens are protected, and it is to the credit of Orland selectmen and Planning Board that several public forums have been held to air both sides of the issue. And it should be noted that the majority of Orland voters did indeed previously vote in favor of the project.
But taking an additional “time out” of 180 days is not a radical, show-stopping request; it, too, is part of the democratic process and, ultimately, having a constructive, critical review of the project to answer the outstanding questions (raised but not answered at the most recent meeting) would in effect provide the opportunity to “prove” potential shortcomings in the ordinance once and for all. Or not; as was noted several times in the last public meeting—a good project now will be a good or better project in 180 days. So what’s the fear? Simply put, it’s that the marginal setback will be changed to better protect the people instead of the wind company’s bottom line.
Prior to the Orland turbine proposal, Dedham had handily dismissed the same company and a larger proposed project. And yet, the current three-turbine project will be placed just across the Dedham town line and, in fact, more Dedham residences (49) will be within one mile of the turbines than in North Orland (37). Dedham residents obviously have no say in the matter since they cannot cast a vote in favor or against the project.
Ordinances drawn up by towns to protect its citizens can and do include “good neighbor” policies designed to consider those in surrounding communities who have no voice in the matter. It could be said that such policies are built upon the Golden Rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Voting “Yes” to a short moratorium to potentially strengthen the wind ordinance and better protect the health, safety, welfare, and quality of life of all citizens in the communities of Orland, Dedham, Ellsworth, and Bucksport is the right thing to do unto others.
—David Sims, Dedham
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