Friends group loses Rollins Mountain appeal

Posted Feb. 08, 2010, at 9:33 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:06 p.m.

LINCOLN, Maine — The Lincoln Board of Appeals was right to refuse to hear the Friends of Lincoln Lakes’ appeal of a Lincoln Planning Board permit issued for a proposed $130 million wind farm on Rollins Mountain, according to a judge’s ruling.

Through its own errors, the Friends group lacked standing to oppose the planning board’s Dec. 1, 2008, decision approving the First Wind of Massachusetts project, Superior Court Justice William R. Anderson ruled in his 26-page decision released Monday.

Anderson rapped the group and its attorney, Lynne Williams of Bar Harbor, for making vague or irrelevant arguments and forcing the appeals board to play “a difficult game of connect the dots” by failing to establish the group’s legal identity in Town Council and planning board meetings that preceded the Dec. 1 vote.

“For reasons that are not clear, FOLL was unwilling to provide the appeals board with minimal evidence to memorialize its ‘party status,’” Anderson wrote.

Among the errors: The group’s incorporation papers named no group members. The group and Williams thwarted the appeals board’s attempts to legally certify group members’ identities during the board’s Jan. 8, 2009, meeting, Anderson wrote.

He called the appeals board’s dismissal “an entirely avoidable result.”

Williams said she hadn’t yet seen Anderson’s decision and couldn’t comment on it Monday. Friends group spokesman Gary Steinberg did not immediately return telephone messages.

Anderson’s decision limits the group’s options, Williams said.

“If this appeal is turned down, if we do not go and appeal it to state supreme court, then we would be done. We would not be able to go back to the planning board,” she said.

Group members have said the issue of identification was silly bureaucratese, as group members had appealed the First Wind plan almost from its introduction. First Wind wants to build 40 turbines, each generating 1½ megawatts, on ridgelines in Burlington, Lincoln, Lee and Winn.

At the appeals board hearing, group members declined to provide paperwork identifying themselves — the “minimal evidence necessary” — because the form requested bank data they considered confidential, they said. Some group members joked, “I’m here, but I am not here,” after the meeting.

But proper legal identification helps determine responsibility for group actions. With their identity left legally vague, group members “had no capacity to sue or be sued,” the town’s attorney, Timothy C. Woodcock, told Anderson during testimony July 29 in Penobscot County Superior Court.

The group could have avoided problems by naming a single member as the applicant in its appeal to the appeals board, but the group member they named was not listed in minutes as having attended all necessary council and planning board meetings, Anderson wrote.

Appeals board Chairman Alan Grant and Town Manager Lisa Goodwin said they were not surprised by the ruling.

“The arguments they were trying to make were better suited for the council or the planning board. Those are political forums. The will of the people is better suited in both those forums,” Grant said. “We were interested only in the rule of law.”

“My concern is that the appeals board is looking at things the way they are supposed to,” Goodwin said, “and this ruling says that they are.”

Williams said she expected to discuss whether to appeal Anderson’s decision to a higher court with group members on Wednesday, when the Maine Supreme Judicial Court hears the group’s other appeal of the First Wind project in Portland. That appeal concerns the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s permit approving the Rollins Mountain project.

“The whole thing is complicated. We are fighting this fight on many different tracks,” Williams said.

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