Fort Kent residents want windmill moratorium

Posted Oct. 02, 2008, at 9:11 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:18 a.m.

A group of Fort Kent residents is proposing a moratorium on industrial wind turbines within town limits until local officials can develop ordinances governing the enormous structures.

The group has gathered roughly 220 signatures on a petition seeking a 180-day moratorium on construction of commercial wind power facilities as well as processing of any applications. The petition would allow the Town Council to extend the moratorium or cancel it once Fort Kent’s zoning and land-use ordinances have been amended to address wind power facilities.

The petition is a response to a Texas-based company, Horizon Wind, which has been negotiating lease agreements with landowners in the Fort Kent area and in other parts of Aroostook County.

Horizon has yet to file an application with state or local authorities, but company officials have said they hope to build as many as 400 wind turbines in Aroostook. Using today’s technology, 400 turbines could generate enough electricity to power one-third of Maine’s homes on a hot summer day, although wind turbines rarely function at maximum capacity.

But the prospect of hundreds of 400-foot-tall wind turbines dotting the farm fields and forests of Aroostook County has generated considerable concern among some residents.

Members of the group Citizens for Responsible Wind Development plan to present the petition to Fort Kent officials today. The petition demands a special town referendum on the proposal, although the Town Council could impose a moratorium without voter action, group members said.

“Most of the people who signed the petition want this [development] done right or not at all,” Dr. Michael Nissenbaum said.

Horizon Wind, which operates locally under the name Aroostook Wind, has been quietly developing plans for large wind energy facilities in The County for several years. Company officials are aggressively negotiating with landowners willing to have a turbine, transmission line or other infrastructure on their property.

Company representatives have declined to disclose publicly how much landowners would be compensated. Annual payments apparently range from a few thousand dollars for roads or lines to several times that for each turbine, according to numerous sources.

Dave Soucy, a Fort Kent lawyer and one of the organizers of the petition drive, said industrial wind turbines have the potential to permanently alter the “quality of place” that makes Fort Kent special. While Soucy is increasingly convinced the massive turbines are inappropriate for the ridgelines and river valleys surrounding Fort Kent, he said it is important for people to make up their own minds.

“Given the size of the proposal and the effect it will have on the community, it’s not too early to get started” on that conversation, Soucy said. “Now, how we choose to deal with it remains to be seen.”

The petition states that Fort Kent’s land use laws are inadequate to deal with industrial wind power developments and that the town has a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of residents.

“Suitable sites and methods for wind power development need to be reviewed and identified,” the petition states. “Failure to carefully review and plan for wind power development will reduce options available to the town and may result in devaluation, blight, issues that affect public health and welfare, and environmental degradation.”

Justin Dawe, project manager for Horizon Wind, said Friday that he is aware of the proposal but added that the company does not typically get involved in local politics.

“Any possible wind development in and around Fort Kent is years away and we will certainly take any local wind ordinances into consideration when we are thinking about attractive places for new wind power projects.”

Horizon plans to build the wind facilities in stages, with the first project slated for areas west of Bridgewater. That project is expected to involve more than 100 turbines.

Dawe said Horizon plans to file permit applications with state regulators for the company’s first project near Number 9 Mountain in early 2009.

A moratorium on wind power facility also has been proposed for the nearby town of Wallagrass.

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