FORT KENT, Maine — Hoping to send a strong message, the Town Council on Monday night voted unanimously to withhold its support of a moratorium on industrial wind turbines within town limits.
A citizen petition has placed the question of a 180-day moratorium on industrial wind power development in the community on the March 23 town meeting warrant.
“The most important part of a moratorium is there must be a need for the moratorium,” Robert Plourde, town attorney, told the council Monday night. “When you pass a moratorium, you are putting the brakes on certain types of development and property owners could say that interferes with their rights.”
Passing any kind of moratorium on development is something Plourde said is done “only when the wolf is at the door.”
Plourde told the council that all the information he has gathered in speaking with representatives from Horizon Wind — the Texas-based company that has expressed an interest in locating a large-scale wind farm in the St. John Valley — indicates the company is at least two years away from the permitting application process.
“It’s important to understand where the project is,” Plourde said. “They are at a very early part of the process, though there are many rumors saying otherwise in town.”
Those rumors, Plourde said, in addition to a grass-roots group named Citizens for Responsible Wind Development, or CROWD, which has been vocal in questioning the wisdom of placing large wind turbines in Fort Kent, have started to give the town an anti-wind power reputation in other parts of the state.
“CROWD has their opinions and that is their right,” Plourde said. “But they don’t speak for Fort Kent — you, the elected officials, do.”
Plourde said that given the current economic climate, it might not be in the town’s best interest to “slam the door” on an opportunity that might not come along again.
“These wind companies will not come where they are not wanted,” he said. “The message is out there for good or bad that Fort Kent is anti-wind [and] this message may not represent the views of the elected officials.”
Regarding concerns raised by members of CROWD over noise and other possible nuisance impacts of large wind turbines, Plourde said a Town Council-appointed committee has been working to research those issues and has plans to address them with proposed amendments to the town’s zoning laws.
“There is no reason to think the committee’s work will not be done in time for the town meeting a year from now,” Plourde said. “That is still well within the two-year timeline of Horizon.”
“We should not even consider a moratorium until we see what they come up with,” said council Chairman Louis Moreau.
For Councilor Paul Berube, taking a stand on the wind power issue could help alleviate some of what he said is misinformation circulating in town.
“We need to take a position sooner rather than later,” Berube said. “We need to give the people time to ask questions because there are too many rumors.”
The issue of commercial wind in Fort Kent is not one that is going away, Plourde said.
“There is no bigger issue right now,” he said. “It’s about economics, property rights and people getting along.”
In a separate issue, the council voted to seek refinancing to secure funds to pay a $170,000 balloon payment due on the town-owned building in the industrial park.
The building is the former Kent Inc. factory, which houses four tenants in the retail manufacturing business employing about 100 people.
The council also approved using $40,000 in the building’s capital reserve account for needed repairs on the facility.
Last April the council had discussed borrowing up to $170,000 to “sever” the building into two separate structures, which they said could make them easier to sell. The two pieces of the building are connected by an enclosed walkway.
“No one is interested in the complex as a whole,” Town Manager Don Guimond said. “It would be more attractive to sell as two separate units.”
The council agreed to revisit the option of severing the building if a buyer is found who is interested in just one piece.