LINCOLN, Maine — Town Councilor Thora House didn’t like fellow Councilor Rod Carr’s being accused of ethical misconduct, but that wasn’t what changed her vote to award First Wind of Massachusetts a state tax break last week, she said Sunday.
House went from opposing the proposed 20-year credit enhancement agreement between First Wind and the town at a March 9 meeting that ended with a 3-3 tie vote to approving another deal that awarded Lincoln an additional $600,000 over the agreement’s last 10 years. The second, 4-2 vote was April 13.
“I changed my vote for two reasons,” House said Sunday. “I opposed it the first time because I believed that Lincoln could have a better deal, and we got that — $600,000 is nothing to sneeze at.”
House also agreed with a resident who, speaking in opposition to the tax increment financing deal for First Wind, discussed how the proposed industrial wind site was dividing the town, she said.
“I thought to myself, ‘That’s probably true,’ and decided that I wanted to stop this disagreement,” she said. She figured the second agreement was the best deal Lincoln would get.
First Wind seeks permits to build 40 1.5-megawatt turbines along the Rollins Mountain ridgelines of Burlington, Lee, Lincoln and Winn with its $130 million project.
Representing the Friends of Lincoln Lakes group, which opposes First Wind’s plans, attorney Lynne A. Williams read a one-page letter at the April 13 meeting accusing Carr of a conflict of interest in working as a paid lobbyist for landowners who would benefit from the project.
H.C. Haynes Inc. and W.T. Gardner and Sons paid Carr, a former state representative, $3,000 and $2,000, respectively, in 2008 for lobbying the state Legislature. Carr’s lobbyist registration statements indicate he expects to receive $5,000 from the companies in 2009.
Those companies own a portion of land on which the facility would be built.
Carr denied any wrongdoing and recused himself from the vote after failing during a 15-minute recess to contact his attorney for advice. Carr did not return messages left Saturday and Sunday.
Council Chairman Steve Clay called the letter “character assassination,” the Friends group’s tactics “mudslinging” and defended Carr’s integrity. Williams said her letter shed light on dealings surrounding the project and that there was “at least a need to discuss the potential conflict and then let people decide.”
In her lifetime as a town resident, including five years on the council, the 56-year-old House said she has never seen a debate so contentious as that stirred by First Wind’s application. House said she felt that Carr should have spoken of his lobbying work before voting on the project but faulted councilors equally for not making the situation more transparent.
“Most of the council knew he was a lobbyist, and who he works for is all a matter of public record,” House said. “It would have looked better to the townspeople if he declared it, but I don’t think he did anything illegal. I don’t think he benefited directly from it [his vote].”
The Friends group has accused town Economic Director Ruth Birtz, Carr and the council of ethical misconduct regarding the proposal. Williams argued that the council’s executive session talks with First Wind should have been held publicly, when municipalities statewide typically talk tax increment financing deals and other contract negotiations privately, in accordance with state law.
The latest imputation targets House. A letter writer in the area’s weekly newspaper implied this week that House had a relative who worked for First Wind.
She doesn’t, she said, shrugging it off.
“When you are in politics, people point fingers and say lots of things,” House said. “That just goes with the territory.”