The Lincoln Appeals Board ignored judicial precedent when it improperly denied Friends of Lincoln Lakes a chance to appeal a town permit of a proposed $130 million industrial wind site on Rollins Ridge, the group’s attorney said in a brief filed with the state’s top court.
In the 13-page argument she filed with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Monday, attorney Lynne Williams of Bar Harbor said that the board ignored several town documents that showed the Friends had proper legal standing as an opponent of First Wind of Massachusetts’ proposal. First Wind plans to set 40 turbines, each generating 1½ megawatts, on ridgelines in Burlington, Lincoln, Lee and Winn.
The town’s attorney argued that 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,” Timothy C. Woodcock successfully argued during a lower-court appeal July 29 in Penobscot County Superior Court.
“Friends of Lincoln Lakes is not suing for monetary damages, but rather bringing an administration appeal before a municipal appeal board, which is not a comparable action,” Williams wrote in her appeal.
Williams argued that the town documents, and other materials the group brought, should have been enough to push the appeal forward, as town regulations provide no detailed guidelines for establishing standing, she said.
“There is certainly no notice to a party that they must come armed with membership lists, bank statements, bylaws and resolutions regarding the appeal,” Williams wrote.
“Nor was [Friends of Lincoln Lake] notified to bring anything except a copy of their Articles of Incorporation,” she added.
The group allowed the appeal board to view, but not copy, bank statements and some other materials, fearing the release of confidential banking information, when it appeared before the appeals board about a month after the Lincoln Planning Board approved the project on Dec. 1, 2008.
The appeal board declined to hear the Friends appeal.
The group opposes the project, saying it would emit sound and vibrations harmful to wildlife and people, lower land values, and disrupt the pastoral nature of Rollins Mountain.
First Wind has argued that its project meets or exceeds all state environmental requirements and that wind turbines have no adverse effect on land values. The project, which lacks an investor, is halted until the appeal is resolved, First Wind officials have said.
Williams argued that the board’s decision contradicted several federal and state civil court cases, which she cited.
“The board’s action was clearly contrary to those principles of standing expressed by this court as well as the United States Supreme Court, which consistently grant standing in land use cases when there appears any possible way it can legally be done,” she wrote.
Williams and the group’s strategy coordinator, Brad Blake, did not immediately return telephone messages or e-mails requesting comment on Thursday.
Friends spokesman Gary Steinberg said he did not know when the state court would rule. Williams has said that she expected the court would rule only from briefs filed, not oral arguments.
“From the very beginning of this project, the town worked in a secretive process with First Wind to site the project, we believe breaking ordinance law to obtain this tainted permit,” Steinberg said Thursday.
“The process was designed using the expedited wind law of Gov. [John] Baldacci, [former Gov.] Angus King, and Rep. [Jon] Hinck of Portland and others to thrust wind projects down Mainers’ throats, thwarting Mainers’ basic rights as citizens. We are hoping that our First Amendment rights will be upheld in the state supreme court,” he said.
Concluding an earlier Friends appeal, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s unanimous ruling in March upheld the constitutionality of a state law fast-tracking the permit process for Maine wind sites and reaffirmed state approval of the Rollins Mountain project.
If the state court rules in the Friends’ favor, the Friends’ appeal would go back to the town appeal board, Williams has said.