Mars Hill windmills prompt civil lawsuit

Posted Aug. 12, 2009, at 12:06 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:45 a.m.

MARS HILL, Maine — Wendy Todd acknowledged Tuesday afternoon that she and her husband, Perrin Todd, knew that wind towers likely would be erected behind their property before they started building their home on the east side of Mars Hill in late 2005.

“We knew it was likely,” she said. “But we had educated ourselves about the project. We attended at least two informational meetings before the project began and another meeting before the permit for the project was approved.

“During all of these meetings,” she continued, “We were told that noise would not be an issue, that the windmills were ‘gentle giants.’ We were told that you would have to be within 500 feet to hear anything, and that the visual aspect of the project would be the hardest thing to get over. We felt that we could get past that, so we believed we were all set.”

That, Todd said Tuesday, was wrong. And now the Todds are joining with others who live near the windmills to try to rectify the situation.

The family and 16 neighbors have recently filed a civil suit in Aroostook County Superior Court in Caribou against First Wind, two construction firms and the town of Mars Hill.

Peter Kelley, the attorney for the group, said Tuesday that his clients have seen the quality of life they experienced before the windmills were constructed slip from their grasp. He said his clients are alleging that they were not properly notified about all that the construction process entailed.

Noise, which Wendy Todd said Tuesday was not supposed to be an issue, continues to reverberate from the wind farm. Headaches and frayed nerves are now a problem, according to Todd, and property values among the homes allegedly affected by the project have diminished.

Kelley said his clients want compensation for their alleged loss of peace, enjoyment and quality of life, the reported drop in their property values, and the emotional and physical stresses they are dealing with since the wind farm became operational.

Massachusetts-based First Wind also goes by the name Evergreen Wind Power in Maine. The 28 turbines in Mars Hill began spinning late in 2006. First Wind also operates industrial wind energy facilities on Stetson Mountain in northern Washington County and has several other projects in the pipeline.

Todd said she and her husband were initially in favor of the project because of the economic benefits and the positive environmental effects of renewable energy. At all of the meetings she and her family attended, Todd stressed, they were told by those involved that noise “would not be an issue.”

“As soon as they turned on the first windmill, I knew they were wrong,” she recalled. “People here were just flabbergasted. We had already dealt with the noise of them blasting and clearing land, and then we heard the windmills. We knew we had made a mistake.”

The Todds described hearing a “phfoop … phfoop … phfoop” noise when the first windmill was turned on. Noise issues were taken to town officials in January 2007.

“The noise has gotten worse,” said Todd. “Our neighbors have complained of having headaches and having trouble sleeping.”

The couple has taken steps to protect their three children.

“They live in rooms that are farthest away from the noise,” she said. “They have never shown any physical symptoms, but they have complained that the noise scares them.”

Todd said one of the biggest problems is that no one “realized the depth of the project.” She added that residents in the town had no idea what the sounds and size of the towers and the visual effects of them would be like because they had nothing to compare them to.

“Nothing like it had ever happened here,” she added.

Before the lawsuit, the Todds talked with officials from the town and First Wind, and met with legislators at home and in Augusta. They also attended legislative committee meetings in Augusta.

“But nothing seemed to happen,” said Todd.

The Mars Hill resident said she and others have contemplated moving, and the Todds have talked to noise experts about soundproofing the home.

“But even then, I do not think it would be mitigated,” she added.

First Wind spokesman John Lamontagne said Tuesday afternoon that he could not comment on pending litigation. He stressed, however, that others in Mars Hill are happy with the project and that the company completed all the necessary steps in order to construct the wind farm. The Mars Hill project underwent a detailed process with the state Department of Environmental Protection. He added that the windmills also brought jobs and environmental and financial benefits to the town.

Mars Hill town officials could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

Todd said she wants stricter rules in place for the establishment of wind farms in the state as well as a way to improve the situation in Mars Hill.

In the meantime, she said Tuesday, “our lives are on hold.”

“Do we leave a home we love?” she asked. “And what will the long-term effects of exposure to the windmills be? There are so many questions.”

jlbdn@ainop.com

538-6567

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