FRANKFORT, Maine — A heated debate about wind energy is dividing this small town.
Emotions ran high and tempers began to flare as a Waldo County sheriff’s deputy stood by to keep the peace Wednesday night during a public hearing on the community’s proposed wind energy ordinance.
The two-hour-long hearing at Frankfort Elementary School touched on everything from private property rights to the historic use of noise as a tool of torture. Residents also spoke about the importance of seeking independence from foreign oil, the promise of millions in tax money over 20 years and the concept of doing the right thing for one’s neighbors.
After the meeting, outside the school, a wind developer and an anti-wind activist started a brief, angry argument, with each calling the other a liar.
Travis Bullard of Eolian Renewable Energy, a small New Hampshire-based company that is working on developing four wind turbine projects in three states, said if Frankfort residents pass the proposed ordinance as written it will spell the end for the $25 million, four- to six-turbine project the firm would like to build on Mount Waldo. The company would pay a minimum of $100,000 in tax revenue to Frankfort each year for 20 years, which would equal at least $2 million over 20 years, company officials have said.
“I’ve heard a lot of concerns out there,” Bullard said toward the end of the two-hour public hearing. “These are serious concerns. But an appropriately well-sited wind project is not something you should be afraid of.”
Many of the nearly 100 people in the room disagreed with him, however, with one woman using tears to underscore her dislike of the proposed wind project.
“It’s land that we love. We use it every weekend,” said the Winterport woman, who declined to share her name with the BDN. “If this goes through, our private land would be ruined. How could you say it’s fair?”
Earlier this year, officials from Eolian told community members about their plan to install up to six turbines on a privately-owned site atop Mount Waldo, a location that already is home to radio towers and has an access road. The wind project galvanized many in the town, which so far has no land use ordinances, to vote for a six-month moratorium on all aspects of wind energy development while residents worked to develop some town standards.
The committee that developed the proposed ordinance presented it during the public hearing and defended its noise and setback requirements, which Bullard decried as being much too strict.
As written, the ordinance would create a setback of one mile from the turbines to each property line of a nonparticipating landowner. Turbine noise would be limited to 45 decibels during the day and 32 decibels at night, as measured at the property boundary. The local ordinance would supersede current state statute which allows up to 45 decibels between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. as measured from houses and other “protected locations” within one mile of turbines.
Also in contrast, some other communities in the state, such as Eastbrook and Dixmont, require setbacks of a mile from an occupied building. The state’s own proposed model ordinance would require a setback of 150 percent of the height of the turbine. Eolian has proposed its own setback of three times the height of the turbines to the nearest occupied buildings.
“The purpose and intent is to protect and safeguard the health, safety and welfare of residents of the town of Frankfort,” said Josh Dickson, who was on the ordinance committee.
He and other members said they met 18 times, examined ordinances from 22 towns and read an abundance of scientific articles that referred to wind projects.
The noise and shadow flicker from wind turbines can contribute to insomnia and hypertension, they said, referring to their findings.
“At the end of the day, this is research. It’s not perfect. Neither are we,” Dickson told the crowd. “We did the best we can. The decision will be up to you guys, not us.”
Carrie Bennett of Freedom said she hopes the townspeople of Frankfort will make a different decision than the people of her town did. She said she lives about 3,000 feet away from one of the turbines in her community.
“All three of my children have been placed on sleeping pills by their pediatrician,” she said, referring to the turbine noise keeping them awake at night. “What you get back as a community is not worth what you pay.”
She said she and her husband are now building a “sleeping room” in the basement of their five-bedroom home.
“In my book, that’s pathetic,” she said. “I hope you’ll take care of yourselves, and you’ll protect your neighbors.”
Greg Allen of Sedgwick, who owns an easement to the turbine site, stood up at the hearing and thanked committee members for their hard work. Allen said it’s probably true he has a pro-wind bias and said that many feel the ordinance committee has an anti-wind bias.
“Reasonable people can differ [in their opinions],” he said. “But this ordinance will kill the wind project in Frankfort.”
Ly Ha, who lives near Mount Waldo, said that he often works on Vinalhaven, where three controversial wind towers spin.
“I hear that windmill a lot, and it is loud,” he said. “This is going to affect me, big time. I moved there to get away from everything, and not to get a bunch of noise.”
Debbie Moore of Frankfort said that noise historically has been used as a means of torture.
“Will we be a town that protects its citizens?” she asked. “Or a town that caters to wind companies?”
While most who testified spoke against the wind project, Rob Manner said that the noise concerns may be exaggerated. He said that he has measured the noise of his unamplified voice at 65 decibels.
“Why are we ignoring $2 million over the next 20 years?” he said. “No windmills. No energy in my backyard. Why can’t we have that be, ‘Reasonable energy in my backyard?’”
Frankfort residents will cast ballots on the wind ordinance from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1, at the Frankfort Elementary School. The ordinance can be viewed at the town office.
Information about the wind ordinance review committee is available at www.friendsofwaldomountain.org.
Information about the Waldo County wind project is available at waldocommunitywind.com.
An earlier version of this story needs to be clarified. Greg Allen of Sedgewick owns an easement to the turbine site but otherwise does not have financial ties to the project. Also, Eolian Renewable Energy has indicated that the company would pay a minimum of $100,000 in tax revenue to Frankfort each year for 20 years, which would equal at least $2 million over 20 years. The number of $200,000 annually that was cited by a community member at the Oct. 26 public hearing and printed in the paper was erroneous.