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Dixfield selectmen vote to postpone wind ordinance approval

DIXFIELD – The Board of Selectmen voted 3-1 Monday evening to postpone a vote to approve the most recent draft of the town’s Wind Energy Facility Ordinance for the June 9 referendum until the Planning Board can address the concerns of a group of residents.

Residents originally approved an ordinance in November 2012 to regulate wind development. At the beginning of 2013, selectmen voted to have the Planning Board strengthen the regulations.

The Planning Board brought its recommendations to selectmen, who made revisions and put it on the November 2014 ballot. The article called for repealing the original ordinance and adopting the amended version. Voters rejected the revised ordinance by a vote of 553-567.

The board voted at their Feb. 9 meeting to take the Planning Board’s original draft and put it before voters at their June 9 ballot.

Town Manager Carlo Puiia told selectmen Monday evening that during the Planning Board’s recent meeting, a group of citizens told the Planning Board they had concerns about a section of the recent ordinance draft that stated “no Wind Energy Facility Unit shall be located so as to generate post-construction sound levels that exceed 35 decibels at night or 42 decibels during the day.”

Resident Norine Clarke read a letter to the selectmen at the start of the meeting clarifying remarks made about the ordinance approved in November 2012.

She explained that the language in the November 2012 ordinance stated that the wind turbines should not exceed 42 decibels at night because the state had changed their nighttime decibel level from 45 to 42 decibels.

“The supporters have been in the majority twice – and yet you, as their agents, do not do their bidding,” Clarke said. “It is not right or ethical.”

Resident Susan Holmes said that she wanted to see the town go back to the original ordinance that was approved in November 2012, where nighttime decibel level was 42 decibels instead of 35.

Selectman Hart Daley replied that the Planning Board made several other adjustments to the wind ordinance besides fixing punctuation and writing clearer language.

He added that in the November 2012 ordinance, there was inappropriate zoning language that zoned off a specific section of town between Route 2 and Webb River, no permitting fee structure set up, inadequate decommissioning fees and inappropriate protections for towns in terms of noise and setback for people living in close proximity to the wind turbines.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Scott Belskis told Clarke and other residents in the audience that the Planning Board originally made the decision to lower the nighttime decibel level from 42 to 35 decibels the first time they made amendments to the wind ordinance.

“That was their decision to make, and when they passed it along to us, we approved their recommendation,” Belskis said.

Holmes asked the selectmen why the Planning Board voted to lower the nighttime decibel level from 42 to 35.

Planning Board member Richard Pickett explained that they researched wind ordinances in other towns, such as Woodstock, that had used 35 as their nighttime decibel limit.

“The Planning Board voted unanimously in favor of those amendments,” Pickett said. “However, I was not aware at the time that Woodstock’s ordinance currently in place was the second ordinance they had voted on. Had I known differently, I would’ve voted in favor of the 42 decibels.”

Pickett added, “I’m not for wind or against wind. I’m for what’s best for the town of Dixfield.”

He asked that the selectmen vote to set the nighttime decibel limit at 42 decibels on the recent wind ordinance draft.

Near the end of the meeting, Daley made a motion to table voting on placing the wind ordinance on the June 9 referendum until all five selectmen were present, since Selectman Norman Mitchell was not at the meeting.

The board voted 4-0 in favor of Daley’s motion, but shortly afterwards, Gill amended the motion, asking that the selectmen wait until the Planning Board has had a chance to discuss the nighttime decibel level amendment at their March 19 meeting.

Gill’s motion was approved 3-1, with Daley voting against it.