Lee hires firm for talks on $120M wind project

Posted Sept. 09, 2008, at 9:10 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 7:25 a.m.

LEE, Maine — Lee will join three other towns in hiring a Bangor-based law firm to handle pending tax-break negotiations for a proposed $120 million wind farm, officials said Tuesday.

With only seven residents attending, the Board of Selectmen agreed during a special town meeting Monday night to hire Eaton Peabody of Bangor to represent Lee in talks with Evergreen Wind Power LLC regarding its Rollins Mountain wind farm. There was no dissent.

Burlington, Lincoln and Winn, the other towns slated to have farm windmills installed within their lines if the project is approved, also have hired Eaton Peabody, said Ruth Birtz, Lincoln’s economic development director.

The Lee board was disappointed that more residents were not involved with what is likely to be among the most significant developments in town history, First Selectman Kirk Ritchie said.

“I can’t think of anything else that would be of that magnitude, not in dollar figures. [Evergreen officials] are saying that it would be $20 million to $24 million [invested] just in town,” Ritchie said Tuesday. “I wish we could get more people involved with the process.

“We have a committee of 10 to 12 people working [on the tax portion] but it’s a public process,” he said. “This is a big deal.”

First Wind of Massachusetts will apply by the end of the year for permits to build 40 1.5-megawatt windmills creating as much as 60 megawatts of electricity on sites in Burlington, Lee, Lincoln and Winn through Evergreen Wind Power, a subsidiary of First Wind.

Lincoln would have 19 or 20 turbines; Winn, three; Lee, seven; and Burlington, 12. Two turbine sites are listed as alternates. The company also would install a 115,000-volt transmission line that would run from the north end of Rollins Mountain to a Mattawamkeag connection to the New England grid.

Residents should get involved now if they want to have a say in how this project affects Lee, Ritchie said. The wind farm will be discussed during a selectmen’s meeting at 6:30 tonight at the town office and at a special informational meeting with Evergreen at Lee Academy at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 17.

Winn’s selectmen were due to meet the town’s planning board Tuesday night at the Winn town office, said Mary Twist, Winn’s administrative assistant.

With 45 lawyers in offices in Augusta, Bangor, Brunswick and Ellsworth, Eaton Peabody is one of Maine’s largest law firms and handles a wide variety of governmental affairs, according to its Web site, eatonpeabody.com.

The firm employs Daniel Stevenson, the former head of the TIF Division for the state Department of Economic and Community Development. This makes the firm one of the best equipped for handling TIF negotiations, Birtz said.

Short for tax increment financing, TIFs are among the state’s leading tools for aiding economic development. When a town realizes an increase in valuation created by an investment, it also experiences a reduction in its share of state revenues and an increase in county taxes. A TIF allows a town to “shelter” the new valuation from the calculations of state revenue sharing, education subsidy and county tax assessment — in effect, creating more money for the town, usually over 20 years.

That money, in turn, can be invested back into the town, though usually only for projects that promote more economic development, such as the industrial park Lincoln intends to build near its regional airport. Another Lincoln TIF helped the town install new streetlights downtown, Birtz said.

As part of the TIF agreement, Evergreen will pay for Eaton Peabody’s services to the four towns. This saves Lee about $20,000, Ritchie said.

First Wind is building a 38-turbine farm in Stetson Mountain between Danforth and Springfield and operating a 28-turbine wind farm in Mars Hill. Those communities also have secured TIFs for the projects.

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