Despite obstacles, N.H. company working to build $25 million wind project in Frankfort

Posted May 03, 2011, at 5:32 p.m.
Last modified May 03, 2011, at 6:03 p.m.

FRANKFORT, Maine — A small company’s effort to build a $25 million, 10-megawatt wind project atop Mount Waldo is continuing, even as a group of residents works to obtain a six-month moratorium on any kind of wind power development in their town.

Right now, Frankfort has no specific zoning ordinances that would guide this kind of project, but there are both state and federal regulations that Portsmouth, N.H.-based Eolian Renewable Energy would need to follow.

Company officials said Monday that they were willing to go beyond those regulations.

“Whatever the concerns are, we’re willing to sit at the table and talk about it,”  said Travis Bullard, the company’s senior development manager. “We are volunteering to commit to these binding regulations with the town.”

But concerned residents feel that Frankfort needs more time and more planning before going through with such a project.

“We have no say in this town, because there are no ordinances,” said Steve Imondi, a resident who lives close to Mount Waldo. “We just want some time so people can gather the facts. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.”

Imondi said he and others have been researching wind turbines and have specific worries about potential health impacts, noise, property value reduction, wildlife, scenic views and more.

“State after state is now finding there are very serious issues regarding wind turbines,” Imondi said.

He and a few others recently went door-to-door to obtain signatures for a petition that asks the Frankfort Board of Selectmen to hold a special town meeting to ask residents to vote on the moratorium. They needed fewer than 50 signatures and obtained 99, he said. About 1,100 people live in the community, according to the latest census figures.

The petition was turned in to the Select Board on Monday night, and the signatures are now being verified.

A municipal official said Tuesday that a special town meeting has not yet been scheduled.

Last week, First Selectman Allan Gordon Jr. said residents would vote on the 180-day moratorium ordinance “sometime in the next few weeks.”

He said he did not wish to speak about his own feelings about the proposed development.

“I would rather do whatever the people direct me to do. That is how I’m approaching it,” he said.

Meanwhile, representatives from Eolian Renewable Energy have been working with the town to do community outreach about the project. A planning board meeting last week where company officials addressed residents brought out more than 50 people, one attendee said.  

More than 100 came from all over the state to the company’s introductory meeting held in March at Frankfort Elementary School.

“We believe in engaging the community, engaging the stakeholders,” Bullard said. “Often, there’s kind of a knee-jerk response from a small, vocal minority. What we’re trying to do is reach out to the folks against the project and tease out what their concerns are.”

As now planned, the company would erect four to six wind turbines erected on land in Frankfort that the company leased on Mount Waldo several months ago.

The site is a good fit for Eolian, because the 3-year-old company wants to build smaller wind energy projects in locations that already have been affected by infrastructure, Bullard said. Mount Waldo has three radio towers at the summit that are more than 300 feet tall, as well as an access road.

He said most people in town he has spoken to support the wind development plan, which would generate $100,000 in taxes annually for Frankfort for the life of the project. Eolian is not asking the community for any cash subsidies.

“In fact, we’d be the largest taxpayer in town,” Bullard said

One resident in support of the project is Steve Oleksyk, who lives within sight of Mount Waldo.

“The proposals made by developers make sense to me. It’s already an industrial site,” he said.

Oleksyk also said it did not feel right for a town that is “historically” anti-zoning to suddenly begin telling a private landowner what he can and can’t do. He also said Eolian’s proposed more than 2,000-foot setbacks sound ample.

“I think these folks deserve a chance to succeed,” he said.

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