Wind project a heated issue at Clifton town meeting

Posted March 16, 2013, at 6:31 p.m.

CLIFTON, Maine — After several minutes of sometimes heated debate, Clifton voters narrowly approved to appropriate $19,000 to the town’s professional services account during Saturday’s town meeting.

More than half of the figure would be used for legal services. The town set aside $25,000 a year ago for legal expenses and overspent by more than $7,000. This year, the town appropriated $15,000 for legal services.

The owners of Rebel Hill Farm filed an appeal in Penobscot County Superior Court last year in the hopes of overturning a permitted five-turbine wind farm on Pisgah Mountain.

“I’m paying taxpayer dollars to fight against myself,” said Peter Beckford, who owns Rebel Hill Farms with his wife Julie. “There is no proof my tax dollars will go down [with the wind project], but there is proof that my property values will plummet with those in my backyard.”

Members of the select board remarked that there is no evidence that anyone’s property in town would decrease in value because of the wind project.

The Clifton planning board unanimously approved the $25 million wind farm in October 2011 — after a nearly three-year process. To fight the project, farmers Peter and Julie Beckford asked the town’s board of appeals to review the planning board’s approval, citing 11 items they contended the planners did not fully consider. The appeals board denied their appeal on Jan. 25, 2012, and the Beckfords filed their Superior Court appeal on March 15, 2012.

Pisgah Mountain LLC is co-owned by Gail and Wally Kimball of Veazie, Paul and Sandy Fuller of Bangor, John and Eileen Williams of Clifton and Mike Smith of Bangor.

Paul Fuller attended the meeting in order to update the town on the status of the project.

“Everything else in light of the wind farm is shovel-ready,” Fuller said at the meeting, which was attended by about 40 residents.

He said the wind studies are done, Department of Environmental Protection permitting is done and a power-purchase agreement with Bangor Hydro for 20 years is complete. All that’s left is to hear the judge’s decision on the appeal. There is no timetable on when that decision may come.

Residents at the town meeting were divided on Article 6 of the town warrant — the professional services article.

“I think our town is in a quagmire,” said Beckford after the meeting. “Towns that get involved in industrial wind projects lose. Our town is losing. Nobody anticipated endless legal expenses and there’s no end in sight. My advice to towns is to slam the door on these wind projects. It will save their people a lot of misery and the town a lot of money.”

Fuller explained that the town has lost about $600,000 in tax revenue because of the delays caused by the appeals.

“A $25 million wind farm project paying its taxes in the first year would be about $245,000 in taxes,” said Fuller. “The permit also … offered to pay $45,000 in addition to that in tax relief. You have $290,000 in the first year. If it’s delayed for two years, thats how you get close to $600,000.”

A woman in the front row, who refused to give her name, said the town is due to be re-evaluated. The taxes gained from the wind farm would “be a wash” after the town is re-evaluated.

“After two or three years, our town will be re-evaluated and you will receive less money from the state,” she said. “That means we will be more responsible.”

Planning board chairman Eric Johns said that would be true of any new home or company in town.

Beckford said he’s pursuing the appeal for a variety of reasons.

“It’s a health and safety issue for my family and it’s a property value issue,” he said.

Fuller offered his phone number and email address during the meeting in order to speak with residents directly.

“I will do the best that I can to answer those questions so you will know from the horse’s mouth the best that I can answer those,” said Fuller.

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