Frankfort residents pass strict wind ordinance

Posted Dec. 01, 2011, at 9:13 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 01, 2011, at 10:24 p.m.

FRANKFORT, Maine — After months of tension and debate about health concerns, possible property depreciation and landowners’ rights, the residents of Frankfort have made a decision.

They voted Thursday in favor of adopting a controversial wind ordinance that was created by worried residents in response to a proposal to build a four- to six-turbine wind farm on a privately owned parcel on top of Mount Waldo. It will be the community’s first-ever land-use ordinance.

“People voted and we decided not to let the company self-regulate,” Erin-Kate Sousa, a member of the committee that wrote the ordinance, said Thursday night after votes were tallied. “It was a really good turnout, numbers-wise.”

More than half of the town’s estimated 900 registered voters cast ballots at the Frankfort Elementary School gymnasium during the day-long referendum. According to the clerk, 244 people voted in favor of the ordinance, with 222 voting against it.

“Obviously, this is a blow to the project,” said Travis Bullard of Eolian Renewable Energy. “We’ve worked real hard over the last year to explain the details. Unfortunately, some people have spread enough fear and misinformation to usher in a very restrictive anti-wind ordinance. We’ll be evaluating the next steps of the project next week.”

But Sousa took exception to his words.

“I don’t think we’ve spread fear. I think we’ve spread facts,” she said.

Bullard’s company, which is based in Portsmouth, N.H., is in the process of developing smaller wind projects around the country, including one in nearby Orland.

On Thursday night, before the polls closed at 8 p.m., Bullard was busy at his temporary in-town office making last-minute efforts to rally residents to get out and vote. Next door, at the Family Country Market on Route 1A, a vocal group of customers held an animated discussion about the wind ordinance. Peter Tripp, a lifelong Frankfort resident, said that the ordinance was a bad idea.

“I have 180 acres of private land, and I don’t want anybody telling me what to do,” he said.

He said that the most vocal anti-wind faction was not what he describes as “old Frankfort.”

“This is just what we call transplants coming in from New Jersey and Massachusetts. They stay five, six years, screw up your town, and then leave,” he said.

Earl Anderson, Jr., agreed about the ordinance.

“The bottom dollar is that it’s private property. Once you buy a piece of land and pay taxes on it, nobody should tell you what to do,” he said.

And Paul Emerson said that it is the principal of the thing.

“Maybe some of us don’t want the windmill. But we’d take the windmill over the ordinance,” he said. “The group that doesn’t want the windmills here like the license plates to say what they say — ‘Vacationland’ — because they don’t want business here.”

Bullard and others from Eolian have said that the $25 million project would generate a minimum of $100,000 in tax revenue for Frankfort each year for 20 years, which would equal at least $2 million over 20 years.

But Wayne Grover, who lives on Mount Waldo, had a different take. The 47-year-old man said that he felt so strongly about the issue that he voted in an election for the first time in his life. Before this, he always figured that his one vote wouldn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but neighbors passionate about keeping the turbines off the mountain changed his mind.

“In the last few months, my neighbors have let me know my vote could go a ways,” Grover said. “Hopefully, we get some sort of say in it. I think there’s a lot more places in the state that would be a better spot for the windmills.”

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