DIXFIELD – The Board of Selectmen voted Monday evening to accept a citizens’ petition submitted to amend the sound limits in the Wind Energy Facility Ordinance to match Maine Department of Environmental Protection standards.
The board also agreed to have Puiia contact the Maine Municipal Association to clarify whether the petition must be presented to voters before the annual town meeting in June 2016.
Patriot Renewables LLC of Quincy, Mass., approached Dixfield officials three years ago about constructing wind turbines on the Colonel Holman Mountain ridge.
The town’s original ordinance passed in November 2012 and a revised ordinance was rejected in November 2014 by a vote of 553-567. In February, selectmen voted to put the Planning Board’s original draft on the June 9 ballot, which was subsequently defeated 359-390.
The defeated ordinance stated that no wind energy facility unit or system should generate sound levels exceeding 35 decibels from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., or 45 decibels from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Tom Carroll, project coordinator for Patriot Renewables, said previously that if residents voted for an ordinance that limited nighttime decibels to 35, it “would not be feasible to build a wind farm in town.”
Town Manager Carlo Puiia announced at the Aug. 19 Planning Board meeting that 197 residents had signed a petition to have the sound limit in the ordinance the same at the state’s standards, which are 42 decibels for nighttime, and 55 decibels for daytime.
Selectman Dana Whittemore said he thought the Planning Board should be allowed to “do their jobs” and “make every effort to try and negotiate and meet with Tom Carroll.”
“If we can come up with a sound limit that is less than 42 decibels during the daytime, that would show the people in the affected area that we’re looking out for their best interest,” Whittemore said. “It also gives the wind company a chance to show they’re being neighborly and willing to negotiate down.”
Whittemore said he believed “40 decibels” was doable, since he “heard Tom Carroll say that they tried to run 3 decibels below the sound limit in Carthage.”
“If they can run the turbines at 39 decibels in Carthage, why can’t they do that here, with an upper limit of 39?” he asked. “I think we need to give the Planning Board a chance to work something out. It seems insensitive not to try.”
“I agree with everything that you said,” Chairman Hart Daley said to Whittemore. “However, in regards to the petition, the law states that we must accept it if it’s a legal petition, and it is a legal petition.”
Daley made a motion to accept the petition, but table putting it before residents until the Planning Board had the opportunity to meet with Carroll and discuss sound limit numbers.
“By law, we don’t have to put this before the voters within 60 days if it’s not a pressing issue,” Daley said. “After the Planning Board is done with their process, we can move the petition to the annual town meeting.”
Selectman Eugene Skibitsky said he disagreed with Daley’s assessment that the board could wait until the annual town meeting in June 2016 before asking residents if they wish to vote on the amendments laid out in the petition.
“I have a slightly different point of view than Hart or Dana,” Skibitsky said. “This petition did not ask for the selectmen to wait for the Planning Board to finish their work. It specifically asked them to take the ordinance that the Planning Board had developed before, change the sound limits, and put it before the people at the next referendum ballot.”
“There is a legal petition in front of you, asking to go to a referendum vote,” he continued. “If you accept it, it must go on your next warrant. You don’t have the ability to toss it somewhere else and ignore it. The law is fairly clear. You can either uphold the law, or vote to break the law.”
“I would disagree with you, regarding the law,” Daley said. “We’re accepting the petition as legal, but the Planning Board is currently trying to amend the ordinance in place. If they come back with something different than what the petition is requesting, the law states that we can add their option to the warrant, along with the petition’s request. That way, the people can choose between the two.”
“Those are two separate processes, and you can’t combine them,” Skibitsky said. “The residents have submitted a petition asking us to do a specific thing, and the law says we have to do it at our next town meeting. We have to honor this process.”
After 15 minutes of discussion among the selectmen, Skibitsky suggested that Puiia contact the Maine Municipal Association to find out whether or not the town was required to place the petition request before residents within a certain period of time, or if they could wait until their annual town meeting.
Skibitsky said Daley’s reasoning for waiting until the annual town meeting sounded like “opinions, rather than state law.”
Daley said he was basing all of his decisions on state law and case law from the Superior Court.
The board agreed to accept the petition, and to have Puiia contact the MMA for clarification on the issue.
Whittemore said that by submitting the petition, residents were “dooming the process for the Planning Board.”
“They may have had a chance to represent the people in the affected areas of the wind turbines, but now, the wind developers can say, ‘Screw it, we don’t need to negotiate,’” Whittemore said. “It’s dooming the whole process, and it’s really too bad.”