CLIFTON, Maine — Residents who vote Tuesday on whether to replace the wind turbine portion of the recently enacted land use ordinance with one written by a local group opposed to wind farms may hold the town’s future in their hands.
A yes vote will mean the town’s wind energy turbine rules, which are being called the strictest in the state, will become even tougher and may halt a proposed five-turbine wind farm on Pisgah Mountain.
A no vote would allow the $25 million project, which has been in the works for more than a year and would provide the town with approximately $295,000 annually in property taxes, to move forward.
The project “would be devastating as the law is now,” said Peter Beckford, the closest resident to the proposed Pisgah Mountain wind farm and a member of the Clifton Taskforce on Wind, which wrote the measure that will be voted on by residents next week.
“Under this amendment, no wind farm project will ever be able to be permitted in the town of Clifton,” planning board member Bill Rand said this week. “I will be voting no because this amendment is not to make an existing ordinance better. This amendment will kill this project.”
The 21 pages of amendments would add a property value assurance provision and an ethics clause, set a townwide limit of five turbines and increase setback requirements, as well as the amount in an escrow account set up to cover the cost of any future decommissioning of the turbines. If approved by voters, the amendments would replace the 26-page industrial wind energy facility rules enacted by residents in June.
The town’s newly enacted wind farm rules already double state standards for ambient sound and more than double setbacks between turbines and homes, said Bangor businessman Paul Fuller, who along with his wife, Sandy, purchased 270 acres on Pisgah Mountain to build a wind farm.
“It is the strictest ordinance in the state of Maine” that still allows wind projects to move forward, he said.
Town officials, including selectmen and members of the planning board, are adamantly opposed to the amendments and at recent meetings have urged residents to vote no on Tuesday. They say portions of the proposed changes are illegal or unconstitutional, based on a review by town attorney David Szewczyk and the Maine Municipal Association.
In an Aug. 16 memo to the town, Szewczyk said the real estate property assurance plan “would be found to be unconstitutional or otherwise illegal” and the code of ethics clause “would likely be struck down as unconstitutional.”
The real estate property assurance portion of the amendments is nearly 2½ pages long and states that the developer must buy or compensate all property owners within one mile of the project’s property line if they can’t sell their homes within 18 months or if they experience health problems associated with the project.
The code of ethics portion of the amendments states the wind company cannot hire municipal employees or any of their immediate family members, which includes children, parents and spouses, and the conflict-of-interest portion bars town officials and town employees with a conflict from making decisions regarding the proj-ect.
“Almost all of these, except one, are in another town’s ordinance,” Beckford said, listing Montville, Thorndike, Jackson and Dixmont as the communities from which the amendment wording originates.
“Our goal isn’t to kill the project, it’s to make him work with us,” Beckford said of the developer. He added later: “If they were never [to] build, that would be fine with me.”
The state requires setbacks of 1,500 feet between turbines and residences, and the town’s existing land use ordinance has a setback of 4,000 feet from any residence or business.
The proposed amendments would change the setback to one mile from the wind farm’s property line.
“The proponents of this amendment seek not to increase citizen protection from noise, but to kill the Pisgah Mountain wind project wholesale,” said Mike Smith, who is a partner in the Pisgah Mountain project.
“I will be voting no because the planning board carefully developed an ordinance over six months that protects the citizens of Clifton,” Rand said. “The board carefully looked at other existing wind farms in the state and provided sound setback limits that exceed any existing project currently in operation. The sound level thresh-olds exceed the state model ordinance and the nearest residents from the proposed turbine sites are nearly one mile away.”
Resident Jerry Freeman, who is a former selectmen, said the tax funds raised from Fuller’s turbines would go far to replace tax revenues once generated by the town’s mill, which was torn down two years ago.
“Clifton doesn’t have much industry,” he said. “With this project you end up putting in a valuable asset that is going to pay taxes and not use town resources. It’s exactly the kind the thing a town wants.”