CLIFTON, Maine — Residents will likely decide the future of wind farms in town when they cast ballots in two votes.
The first vote, brought forth by a petition by wind farm opponent Paula Kelso and other members of the Clifton Taskforce on Wind, will ask voters on June 10 if they want to increase the setbacks for wind turbines.
The rules require 4,000-foot setbacks from residences and sound levels that are more strict than required by the state, Clifton Planning Board Chairman Eric Johns said Wednesday.
The proposed ballot wording is as follows:
“Each wind turbine shall be set back at least [4,000] feet from the nearest property line of any nonparticipating parcel. Wind Energy Facility owners may negotiate with property owners to waive the setback with a written mitigation waiver agreement.
This revised provision shall be effective retroactively to any and all wind energy facility applications filed with the [town of Clifton] prior to Aug. 1, 2013. In addition, this provision shall be effective from the date of enactment by the [town of Clifton] irrespective of any other Land Use Ordinance revisions … that are enacted on this same date, if such revisions specify a less restrictive setback than that herein.”
“Our concern is protecting the property line,” Kelso said at a selectmen’s meeting held Thursday to discuss the upcoming votes.
A public hearing on the June 10 citizen’s petition vote is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 27, at the town office.
The second vote is on proposed ordinance changes and is scheduled for July 1. The public hearing will be held sometime in June.
Planners approved the five-turbine Pisgah Mountain wind farm two years ago, but local Rebel Hill Road farmers Peter and Julie Beckford prevailed in a lawsuit against the town and project partners in December, when Superior Court Justice Andrew Horton found in their favor and said the planning board did not follow the Clifton Land Use Code.
The Pisgah Mountain developers, including Bangor resident Paul Fuller and his wife Sandy Fuller, filed an appeal in January to the state’s highest court to overturn Horton’s decision. That decision is expected to take six to 12 months.
“I would expect to hear from the Superior Court anywhere from July 1, on,” Johns said.
In the meantime, the Clifton Planning Board has met every Wednesday to change the ordinance and address the Maine Business and Consumer Court judge’s concerns, said Johns.
“The biggest changes surround the submission requirements and not the actual performance standards,” he said in an April 29 press release.
For example, Horton said the land use ordinance requires pre-development ambient sound iso-contour maps, which planners waived as a requirement for the Pisgah Mountain project.
“The planning board did not make the applicant submit them,” Johns said Wednesday. “And the judge said you have to make them submit them anyway or remove it from the ordinance.”
Portions of the original 28-page wind farm ordinance are “very technical protocols … that should not have gone into the ordinance in the first place,” he said. “The protocols that we had in there were not the right protocols. They were patched together from other ordinances.”
Board members have literally reviewed projects and standards from all over the world to develop the new wind development rules that go before voters in July, he said.
“Industrial wind is always a contentious, divisive issue in communities where it gains a foothold,” the Beckfords said in an April letter mailed to residents but not planning board members. “As for us, we will continue to work to protect our farm.”
The Beckford’s house is located 4,600-feet away from Pisgah Mountain, and it is protected from any possible wind farm noise by a thickly forested hill, Fuller said in a response he filed with the town.
Fuller said this week that if residents approve the Clifton Taskforce on Wind’s setback, “it would kill wind farm development in Clifton.”
The proposed land use code changes eliminate different day and night standards, making all the sound standards the same all the time, and it creates new sound limits of 45 decibels at property lines and 35 decibels within 100 feet of sensitive receptors such as homes, Johns said.
“We didn’t have a property line standard,” he said of the proposed change.
The 45 decibels is equivalent to “a quiet office or library or gentle waves on the shore,” and 35 decibels is “slightly above a bedroom or similar to rural areas at night,” he said.