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Clifton planners hear arguments in remanded wind farm plan; August workshops scheduled

Nok-Noi Ricker | BDN
Nok-Noi Ricker | BDN
Bangor resident Mike Smith, one of the developers of the permitted 5-turbine Pisgah Mountain wind farm, helped to present oral arguments about sound levels on July 18, 2013, to the Clifton Planning Board as part of a Superior Court judge's remand order to provide more facts and finding about sound levels and tower heights.
By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff

CLIFTON, Maine — Town planners heard oral arguments Thursday about sound levels and tower heights before reviewing their October 2011 permit for Pisgah Mountain wind farm, as ordered by a Superior Court judge who remanded the case to them.

At the end of the nearly three-hour meeting, the panel decided to have two 6 p.m. workshops on Aug. 13 and Aug. 14 to go over the arguments, and possibly create new findings. It was noted that there will be no public comment, or input from the developer or opponents, allowed during the workshops.

The Clifton Planning Board allowed the developers, Bangor residents Paul Fuller and Mike Smith, and opponents, Rebel Hill Farm owners Julie and Peter Beckford, to present written arguments last week in response to Justice Andrew M. Horton’s May 8 remand decision, and they heard oral arguments from both sides Thursday night. No new evidence was allowed.

“The record does not appear to include some elements that an applicant is required to submit or demonstrate under the terms of the Clifton Land Use Ordinance,” Horton wrote this week in an order about contacting the town’s sound consultant. “Rather than overturning the approval for that reason, the court decided to afford the Planning Board an opportunity to review the existing record in light of the ordinance … and decide to explain its reasoning in the form of findings.”

Horton also approved a motion by Eric Mehnert, the attorney for the Beckfords, to withdraw from the case this week.

The developers went first and had several items — charts, maps, quotes — enlarged and put onto large white boards that they stressed were already part of the record and provided the “additional facts and finding” requested by the Business and Consumer Court judge.

When the Beckfords stepped up to speak, they argued that much of the proponents’ written arguments and exhibits were new analysis and were not allowed.

“It was never presented to the planning board or considered by the planning board,” Peter Beckford stressed each time he addressed one of the half-dozen items he contested.

Horton affirmed most of the Clifton planning board’s 2011 decision to approve the $25 million, five-turbine wind farm on Pisgah Mountain, but he requested more information about the lack of sound study narratives and iso-maps and why the Maine Department of Environmental Protection MDEP tonal penalty was used rather than the stricter Clifton Land Use Ordinance tonal penalty.

Fuller said the some of the information Horton is looking for is hidden in the nearly 8,000 pages already on record. Some items referenced, for example, were in appendices of reports, he said, adding, “It’s no wonder they couldn’t find it or didn’t see it. I think that is a clerical error or oversight we need to straighten out.”

The preconstruction iso-maps are not part of the record because they do nothing to show compliance with the land use code, which “only regulates sound produced by the project,” Fuller said in asking for a waiver of that requirement.

The Beckfords argued that the board could not give the waiver.

“Does the application comply with the order?” Peter Beckford asked. “They must be submitted and they weren’t submitted. Pisgah has made a mistake here.”

Julie Beckford and Smith each presented arguments about the sound levels and tonal penalties, with Smith saying the data provided were the “worse case scenario” as required by the land use code, and Beckford saying the developers’ numbers are skewed in their favor.

The owners of Rebel Hill Farm unsuccessfully filed an appeal to the town’s Appeals Board, and then in March 2012 filed an appeal in Penobscot County Superior Court to stop the permitted five-turbine Pisgah Mountain wind farm.

David Szewczyk, the town’s attorney, also was on hand at the meeting that was attended by about 30 residents.

“Tonight is not for the board to make a decision,” Planning Board Chairman Eric Johns said at the beginning of the meeting. “It’s for the planning board to ask questions of the two parties.”

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