ORLAND – For the last couple months, the town Planning Board has been reviewing the controversial wind power ordinance originally adopted by voters on March 15, 2011.
Now, its members have agreed any changes they propose for the ordinance won’t retroactively affect any complete wind power applications they’ve previously received.
Such an agreement doesn’t carry much weight, since the selectmen – who appoint Planning Board members – would still have to take any proposed changes to the voters. The selectmen warned as much when the review began in February.
Future Planning Boards could also decide to do away with the agreement, which was approved in a 4-0 vote at the group’s May 4 meeting.
Still, the agreement may be encouraging to Eolian Renewable Energy, a developer from Portsmouth, N.H., that’s hoping to build three turbines on the mountains of north Orland.
The company hasn’t formally submitted an application for its project or said when it will do so. It has said the development would contribute $150,000 annually to the town tax roll and also come with a community benefit package.
The selectmen support Eolian’s project based on that potential investment.
But the concept has drawn fire from some residents in Orland and neighboring towns who worry it would lower their property values, ruin their views and create health and environmental issues. The turbines would be built very close to the Dedham, Bucksport and Ellsworth borders.
Those opponents almost got a six-month moratorium on wind projects passed in January. In a 282-277 vote, residents narrowly struck down the proposed moratorium, which would have temporarily blocked any wind power proposals and allowed the Planning Board a half-year to amend the ordinance.
It was a concern among some Planning Board members that voters may interpret their current review as a de facto moratorium – in lieu of the one rejected in January – that led to the May 4 resolution.
When proposing that resolution, Planning Board Chairman Jack MacBrayne said he thought a wind developer would hesitate to submit a wind power proposal or begin a project when new or stiffer rules could retroactively be applied, throwing a wrench in their project.
“To the best of my recollection all of the board members were under the understanding that any application received during the review process would be evaluated based on the standards in the current ordinance,” MacBrayne said, reading from a prepared statement.
Some citizens have complained to the selectmen about the delay potentially caused by their review, MacBrayne continued, and “I have to agree. In fact I think that what the board is doing now is worse than a moratorium as the review process is now open ended. Several months have elapsed since the denial of the moratorium, and we are not close to having a revision recommendation.”
Four Planning Board members voted to approve MacBrayne’s resolution, and none opposed it. Planning Board member Charles Giosia abstained from voting.
Right before that vote, Planning Board Vice Chairman Dexter Johnson, who lives in the part of town where Eolian’s project would be built, added there are also residents who aren’t concerned about any delay in Eolian’s project their review might have caused.
Several such residents attended the meeting and, when they were allowed to publicly comment, were more direct about their feelings on the ordinance.
Pamela Letarte of North Orland pointed out that there were nearly as many voters who supported the moratorium on wind power development as those who opposed it.
Letarte said she’s particularly worried the current ordinance won’t give her and her husband recourse if blasting for wind turbines affects their drinking water supply.
Shawn Mercer, also of North Orland, expressed frustration that the Planning Board has already identified areas where the current ordinance could improve, yet has affirmed it won’t hold the tighter standards to any projects proposed before those recommended changes take effect.
“I live near this project,” he said after the meeting. “They’re saying none of these changes will protect me, just anyone that comes in after me.”
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