LINCOLN, Maine — The Lincoln Appeals Board denied the Friends of Lincoln Lakes group its due process rights when it rejected hearing the group’s appeal last month of the proposed $130 million Rollins Mountain wind farm, the group’s attorney says.
The Friends group filed an appeal of the board’s action Friday in Penobscot County Superior Court in Bangor. The appeal is one of the first to challenge an industrial wind project’s permit application in a Maine civil court, although it specifically targets the board’s rejection of the group’s identity on a technicality, said the Friends’ attorney, Lynne Williams.
In its first hearing since 2005, the board voted 4-2 on Jan. 8 that the Friends group had no right to appeal the town planning board’s Dec. 1 decision approving the wind project because the group was legally incorporated Dec. 31 but filed its appeal Dec. 15.
Under the board’s General Conduct regulations, the appeals board “decides whether the applicant has a right to appear before the Board,” the regulation states. With the group’s identity in question, the board majority felt it had to reject hearing the group’s complaint, board Chairman Alan Grant has said.
“This standard is vague, and gives no notice to an appellant of how the Board will make that decision,” Williams wrote in her four-page appeal. “Since this Board rarely meets, there was no evidence from other appeals about what information appellants would be required to produce. With no articulated standards, the Board was free to make a decision that in the final analysis was arbitrary and capricious.”
Grant disagreed with Williams’ interpretation.
“The board feels very comfortable in its decision and we will await the appeal and its results,” he said Tuesday.
The Town Council also awaits the appeal, council Chairman Steve Clay said after a council meeting Monday.
In a town where builders have been known to begin constructing buildings before they have permits, group members found the appeals board’s legalistic argument absurd, Williams said.
“Boards like this, if anything, should err on the side of caution and listen to citizen complaints,” Williams said, noting that she and the attorney appointed by the town to advise the board, Timothy Woodcock, gave the board several options besides rejecting the appeal.
First Wind of Massachusetts wants to build 40 turbines, each generating 1½ megawatts, on ridgelines in Burlington, Lincoln, Lee and Winn. Transmission lines would be built in Mattawamkeag. The project would generate at least $400,000 in tax revenue for the town annually, town officials have said.
The project needs approval from the other towns, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The DEP is holding a public hearing at 6 tonight at Mattanawcook Academy to hear residents’ comments on the industrial project, said Jim Cassida, DEP’s licensing coordinator.
“The application is still in process with us,” Cassida said Tuesday. “We are still receiving comments from our review agents. We will be compiling all the information we hear tomorrow night as part of our review.”
Project proponents have praised First Wind as a conscientious creator of wind power, saying the Lincoln Lakes project would create as much as 60 megawatts of pollution-free electricity in peak winds.
The Friends group contends that the turbines would threaten human and animal health, lower land values with light flicker and low-decibel sound, violate at least three portions of town zoning law and typically generate a fraction of their capacity.
In the two-page appeal she planned to give to the appeals board, Williams said the planning board’s approval violated its own, and most other, municipal land-use ordinances for residential zones.
Williams claimed that the board’s decision effectively defined the farm’s 40 380-foot turbines as major public utilities, which, she said, are typically considered “electricity, water, sanitary, sewer, storm water drainage, telephone and cable television” associated with residential uses in the R-1 and R-2 zones.
Public meeting on wind project
WHO: Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
WHAT: Public meeting.
WHERE: Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln.
WHEN: 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 11.
WHY: To receive comments from the public regarding First Wind of Massachusetts’ proposed $130 million Rollins Mountain wind farm for Burlington, Lee, Lincoln and Winn as part of the agency’s review of the project.