Legal fees for wind farm battle part of upcoming Clifton annual town meeting

Posted March 09, 2013, at 6:38 p.m.

CLIFTON, Maine — Last year, Clifton set aside $25,000 for legal fees and overspent the account by more than $7,000, mostly for the town’s involvement in a legal battle over the permitted, but on hold Pisgah Mountain wind farm.

This year, town leaders are asking residents to put $15,000 in the legal services account and approve using up to $25,000 from the unappropriated surplus account for unexpected expenses, “with $20,000 designated solely for legal defense expenses,” the town’s warrant articles state.

“If we should go over what we appropriated, this saves us from calling a special town meeting,” Town Clerk Deborah Hodgins said Friday.

If the town spends more than $5,000 on an item, residents must approve the expenditure, she explained.

This year’s annual town meeting is scheduled for March 16.

Clifton planners unanimously approved the Pisgah Mountain wind farm in October 2011 — after a nearly three-year process — but the project has been stalled by a series of appeals filed by Rebel Hill Farm owners Peter and Julie Beckford.

The farmers filed a local appeal that was denied in January 2012 and then a second appeal in Penobscot County Superior Court in March 2012 to stop the wind farm. Lawyers for both sides and the town issued oral arguments in mid-February. Superior court Justice Andrew M. Horton is expected to issued his written decision in the near future.

The rest of the annual town meeting warrant deals with the budget, including an article that involves moving $43,608 in projected revenue sharing to offset property taxes.

“That is what we stand to lose,” Hodgins said, referring to Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to suspend revenue sharing for two years under his biennial budget. “We [already] shaved the budget back by $30,000 this year.”

Local elections also will take place on March 16, between 8 a.m. and noon. The lone person on the ballot is incumbent Nancy Hatch, who is running for her selectman’s seat, a 3-year term.

The annual town meeting begins at 1:30 p.m. at the town hall.

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