As many as 50 signs protesting wind projects proposed for the Moosehead region were removed by Maine Department of Transportation employees Friday, angering supporters of the group that provided the signs to residents and businesses.
But state officials say the political signs in Greenville and Rockwood – which read “Save Moosehead Say No to Wind” – violated state rules because there is no wind project proposal on the Nov. 3 ballot. They were removed Friday and returned to their owners.
“The signs in question might be considered a political sign, but there’s currently no item on the ballot regarding wind, so they are not considered legal under (state) statute,” said Ted Talbot spokesman for the DOT.
The Maine Travelers Information Services Act allows only certain signs within the state’s right-of-way, Talbot said. The signs that were removed were about 20 feet from the center line; the state’s right-of-way is 33 feet from the center line. Talbot said signs placed closer to homes or businesses would not be removed because they are on private property.
Richard McDonald, a board member for the Moosehead Region Futures Committee, said around 200 signs were placed in the area and he estimated 40 to 50 were removed. The signs were up for two weeks before they were taken down, raising questions for McDonald and other committee members about why they were targeted.
“We’re concerned that (DOT) is being a little shortsighted because there were signs out there for no east-west highway. They didn’t remove those,” he said. “We are curious as to why we were singled out when there are other similar signs out there. We’re curious to know why DOT in Augusta would even know they’re there.”
McDonald said he is concerned there is a larger free speech issue at play, a sentiment echoed in a blog post by the Citizens’ Task Force on Wind Power – Maine.
“When MDOT employees were asked who ordered this, they said ‘Augusta,’” the blog reads. “Is this what America has come to? Have our First Amendment rights been taken away? Is free speech and the right to protest gone? Does the wind industry now control all of Augusta?”
The Moosehead Region Futures Committee is comprised of volunteers from across the state who support a public process to review and revise development proposals in the region.
Two companies, SunEdison and Everpower, want to build wind projects in the Moosehead region, but have not yet filed applications to the Department of Environmental Protection.
SunEdison in August began installing meteorological towers to test wind conditions on land by Plum Creek in the Misery Ridge area of Somerset County. SunEdison, which has wind farms in Stetson and Mars Hill, is working on construction of the Bingham Wind Project in Somerset County.
Opponents of the Bingham project have said that wind farms have a negative impact on the scenery in rural Maine. Department of Environmental Protection regulations state that scenic impact is only a consideration in evaluating a wind project if turbines fall within eight miles of the area of concern.
Talbot said the signs were brought to a DOT garage, where the owners picked them up.
McDonald said the removed signs have been put back up.
“There are more coming,” he said.
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