BANGOR, Maine — The Lincoln Board of Appeals had no business refusing to hear a landowners group’s appeal of a permit issued to a proposed $130 million wind farm on Rollins Mountain, the group’s attorney said Wednesday.
Friends of Lincoln Lakes attorney Lynne Williams argued in Penobscot County Superior Court that Lincoln’s appeal process was chaotic.
“We have a [board] ruling that gives the board totally unfettered discretion to determine who appears before them,” Williams argued before Justice William Anderson. “They can decide for any political reason” to dismiss an appeal.
The town’s attorney, Timothy C. Woodcock of Eaton Peabody of Bangor, said the board acted properly and that Anderson should reaffirm its decision.
“It should not make any difference that the board had several options,” Woodcock said. “The board had the latitude to make that decision and did.”
In its first hearing since 2005, the board ruled 4-2 on Jan. 8 that the friends group had no right to appeal the planning board’s Dec. 1 decision approving First Wind’s project because the group was legally incorporated Dec. 31 but filed its appeal on Dec. 15.
Under its regulations, the board “decides whether the applicant has a right to appear before the Board,” the regulation states. With the group’s existence in question, the board felt it had to reject hearing the group’s complaint, the panel’s chairman has said.
The group’s incorporation papers, Woodcock said after the hearing, named no group members. At the board hearing, group members declined to provide paperwork identifying themselves because the paperwork contained bank data they considered confidential, he said.
“The [Friends of] Lincoln Lakes group had no capacity to sue or be sued,” Woodcock told the judge earlier.
Williams argued that group members defined themselves adequately just by being there.
They were recognized at Town Council and planning and appeals board meetings, and in minutes and e-mails the appeals board had, Williams said.
“It’s a question of whether every association or citizens group that comes before an appeal board needs to be incorporated,” Williams said.
Residents regularly appeal decisions by land-use boards without such fuss, Williams said. State law on appeals tends to “bend over backwards” to ensure residents can appeal.
Woodcock cited at least one case in which a civil group lacked legal standing to pursue appeals.
Williams worried that a decision against her client would reduce residents’ rights to protest land-use decisions.
Woodcock said town officials told Williams that the friends group needed to be properly identified before the hearing but she didn’t respond.
Williams disagreed and said board regulations do not require incorporation. The regulations also list different appeal filing deadlines, she said.
“Even the town’s own internal documents conflict with themselves,” she said.
Anderson gave no timeline for his ruling.
The group will proceed with its appeal if Anderson finds in its favor and appeal his decision if it loses, Williams said.