FRANKFORT, Maine — Selectmen have chosen not to enforce a wind power moratorium the town’s voters enacted in May.
After a wind energy firm expressed interest in installing four to six wind turbines on top of Mount Waldo, residents decided to temporarily ban all wind power activities to give the town time to research and write regulations concerning such development. But for a few weeks now, the Board of Selectmen purposely has allowed Eolian, a New Hampshire-based wind energy company, to do preliminary testing on Mount Waldo.
Documents obtained Monday night by the Bangor Daily News through the Freedom of Information Act indicate that the town’s attorney advised selectmen to look the other way as wind testing equipment went up on the mountain.
The selectmen then told Eolian that site testing activities “will not result in enforcement action by the Selectmen of the Town of Frankfort, so long as the activities occur on property that Eolian … owns or has an interest in.”
The selectmen have refused to comment about their decision, pointing out that talks between the town and its attorney are not public.
After Eolian expressed interest earlier this year in installing wind turbines, some townspeople responded with a petition that resulted in a townwide vote in May. That vote approved a six-month moratorium “on all activities, whether new or currently under way related to the development of any commercial wind energy facility. This prohibition encompasses any form of on-site testing.”
Less than two weeks after the vote, however, Eolian’s CEO Jack Kenworthy wrote the town to complain that the moratorium was “overreaching and unlawful.”
Kenworthy said Tuesday that the no-testing part of the town’s moratorium was against the moratorium’s own stated purpose, which says it shall “protect the public health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the Town of Frankfort by fostering orderly commercial wind energy facility development.”
After Kenworthy’s initial letter, the town wrote back that it was willing to speak with the wind company and review exactly what types of testing it wanted to do. In the same letter, the town wrote it was ready and willing to defend its moratorium in court.
In late June, the company wrote back explaining that it would like to put up some bat detectors and wind sensors on the mountain. It also wanted to survey the site, map wetlands and conduct “scientific studies.” The tests, the company wrote, “pose no danger to the public health, safety and welfare.” The company asked the to town write back agreeing to allow this activity and to take “no enforcement action.”
The town did so on July 5.
All three selectmen — Allan Gordon, Evelyn Adams and Joseph Watson — declined to comment about the issue during office hours on Monday night.
Kenworthy confirmed Tuesday night that his company has started testing on the mountain. In fact, some of the equipment on Mount Waldo has been there collecting wind data since 2008.
The problem the moratorium tries to solve, Kenworthy said, has nothing to do with bat and vernal pool studies the company is doing.
“If we were going to build four 400-foot-tall towers up there, that has the potential to present risks. We understand that component of it. But the part that stops any testing is completely unreasonable. It doesn’t foster the orderly development of wind and it doesn’t protect public safety or welfare,” Kenworthy said.
Kenworthy also said the research being done on the mountain will help the company answer questions they get from locals.
“People want the information,” he said. “We’re trying to work in a collaborative and transparent way with the town.”
Members of Frankfort’s Wind Ordinance Review Committee, however, are still wondering why the town is not enforcing the moratorium.
“We’ve been so busy writing the ordinance we haven’t had the time to look into that, to be honest,” Steve Imondi said Tuesday. “As far as we know they’re doing testing, but the moratorium is in place.”
According to Imondi, the selectmen’s actions are aggravating some townspeople.
“Some people asked us these same questions: Why? How can they do this? I tell them the same thing: All we know is the selectmen, under the law, they have the discretion to pursue [enforcement of the moratorium] or not. Several people have come up to me and asked me, ‘What did we vote for a moratorium for?’”
But according to Imondi, the voters’ decision still matters.
“The moratorium still holds water,” he said. “They can’t put up turbines right now.”
Calls made to town attorney John Carver were not immediately returned.