LINCOLN, Maine — Next stop, civil court.
Friends of Lincoln Lakes group members said Friday they will go to Superior Court to appeal the town permit issued to a proposed $130 million Rollins Mountain wind farm. The Lincoln Appeals Board voted 4-2 on Thursday to dismiss the Friends’ appeal on what group members called a technicality.
“Our appeal wasn’t even heard last night. It was just thrown out,” group member Nadia Wotton of Lincoln said Friday. “I think they [appeals board members] certainly had a legal avenue to allow the appeal to go through. Why they chose not to go through it was inexplicable to me. It was like there was an animosity toward us.”
Appeals board Chairman Alan Grant disagreed.
“The appeals board is very comfortable with the ruling it made. We believe that it is well within the law,” Grant said Friday. “I believe that [board] members are of high character; good conscientious people that are striving to work within the rules.”
Consisting mostly of town residents, the Friends group contends that First Wind of Massachusetts’ 40 380-foot turbines would threaten human and animal health on Rollins Mountain and would lower land values with light flicker and low-decibel sound.
The group claims that the project, which the planning board permitted Dec. 1, violates at least three portions of town zoning law. The project still needs approval from several state and federal agencies and in Burlington, Lee and Winn.
Conducting a public hearing for the first time since 2005, Grant and board members Diana Johnston, Judy Junkins and John Shaefer rejected the appeal. Members Ted Ocana and Brian Stormann opposed.
The majority, Grant said, ruled that the Friends had no right to appeal the decision because the group was legally incorporated Dec. 31 but filed its appeal Dec. 15. Under Section B, No. 7 of the board’s General Conduct regulations, the appeals board “decides whether the applicant has a right to appear before the Board,” the regulation states.
“We got hung up on the idea that we did not know who we were dealing with. That’s the bottom line,” Grant said, calling the issue “an awful big technicality.”
Wotton and group member Rick Kaul of Millinocket called that preposterous.
“I cannot imagine that there was a doubt in anyone’s mind that the group that filed the appeal was the same group that was fighting this [wind farm] all along,” Wotton said. “They know who we are.”
“They came into this with the sole purpose of trying to disqualify us and our right to appeal,” said Kaul, who owns property on Long Pond near Rollins Mountain.
Grant and attorney Tim Woodcock, who the town paid to advise the appeals board, said that the board required legal documentation of the group’s identity to proceed properly. They said Friends attorney Lynne A. Williams of Bar Harbor failed to provide it despite several days’ warning that it was needed.
Williams could not be reached for comment Friday.
“This is not a technicality. It is an absolute requirement and it’s true in court or before any kind of official body that has adjudicatory powers,” Woodcock said. “It’s jurisdictional. The lack of it could have nullified their decision upon further appeal.”
Besides rejecting the appeal, Woodcock told the board Thursday that it had three other options.
It could have affirmed the appeal; recessed the hearing to allow Friends time to prove its bona fides; ruled on everything about the appeal save the identity question; or allowed a substitute party to stand in for the group, such as one or two members whose right to be heard was unquestioned.
The board rejected those options.
“Now we have a group of people that are reflecting on existentialism and the theater of the absurd,” Friends group member Gary Steinberg said. “I also must say that philosophically, if they question our existence, I question theirs.”