Jackson residents approve wind turbine limits

Posted Feb. 08, 2010, at 9:52 p.m.

JACKSON, Maine — Residents this weekend approved a controversial wind turbine ordinance that would impose strict regulations on industrial wind power developments.

Among other things, the ordinance — written by the planning board and the wind energy subcommittee — stipulates that any 400-foot-tall turbines erected must be at least a mile from any houses.

Although the 111-75 vote Saturday morning at a special town meeting has cheered many who oppose large-scale wind facilities in Maine, it also has dismayed some in this rural town of about 500 people who feel the ordinance is too restrictive and shortsighted.

“I was disappointed,” said Duane Lahaye of Jackson, a past member of the planning board who uses several small windmills at his home. “We have to think as an entire nation. We can’t just think as people who don’t want it ‘in my backyard.’ For the better good of everybody, these windmills would have been great.”

The new ordinance replaces a moratorium on wind energy projects that has been in place since January 2009 and was enacted in response to proposals to erect a series of wind towers along Mount Harris and Ricker Ridge in Jackson, Dixmont and Thorndike. Dixmont voters last November approved an ordinance requiring a 1-mile setback between wind turbines and homes.

Brad Blake of Cape Elizabeth is a spokesman for the Citizens Task Force on Wind Power, a recently formed umbrella group of residents fighting wind projects around the state.

“We think it’s absolutely fabulous, because in the town of Jackson, this came as a result of the actual citizens forcing the issue,” he said of Saturday’s vote. “As more and more people get to know about industrial wind power, a lot of citizens in their own communities are starting to say that this is something they need to consider very carefully. Communities like Dixmont and Jackson are saying this is how we’re going to do it if you come to our town.”

But the wind issue in Jackson has been divisive, Lahaye said.

“It has driven a rent through this town that is not going to heal for a long time,” he said.

The timeline on the ordinance has been tight, said Selectman Cindy Ludden.

In November, the planning board delivered a draft ordinance to selectmen, and one month later a third of the town’s registered voters signed a petition to ask selectmen to hold a special town meeting to vote on the proposed ordinance. In mid-December, officials heard from town attorney William Kelly that there were more than 30 “areas of concern” in the ordinance, Ludden said, but it had to go to a townwide vote despite that.

“It was the biggest meeting the town has ever seen. I think everybody knew what they wanted to vote when they came in,” she said. “The consensus was people were concerned about their neighbors.”

According to Ludden, Jackson households have been bombarded with information about the wind ordinance, and recently received two mailings from the selectmen, three from the anti-industrial wind group Fair Wind, two from a private homeowner and even a DVD.

Efforts Monday afternoon to reach someone from Fair Wind or a member of the town’s subcommittee on wind energy were unsuccessful.

“People are talked-out. People are papered-out,” Ludden said. “The big winner here in town was the Brooks post office. They must have gone above and beyond their quarterly quota.”

At this point, she said that she hopes Jackson will receive permit applications for smaller projects.

Blake said that the Jackson ordinance may help restrict the growth of industrial wind facilities across the state.

“We encourage more communities to put more ordinances in place so that the local citizens have more control,” he said.

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