Clifton wind farm development supporters defeat petition measure that would have increased turbine setbacks

From left, Peggy Merritt and Julie Beckford of Rebel Hill Farm wave Vote Yes signs on a referendum to increase wind farm setbacks to 4,000 feet on Election Day in Clifton, Maine.
Brian Feulner | BDN
From left, Peggy Merritt and Julie Beckford of Rebel Hill Farm wave Vote Yes signs on a referendum to increase wind farm setbacks to 4,000 feet on Election Day in Clifton, Maine. Buy Photo
Posted June 11, 2014, at 11:44 a.m.
Last modified June 12, 2014, at 9:22 a.m.
From left, Deanna Lee, Mike Smith, Becca Folster and Jan Logan wave Vote No signs on Airline Road in Clifton during election day. The vote determined the setback distance of the Clifton wind farm.
Brian Feulner | BDN
From left, Deanna Lee, Mike Smith, Becca Folster and Jan Logan wave Vote No signs on Airline Road in Clifton during election day. The vote determined the setback distance of the Clifton wind farm. Buy Photo

CLIFTON, Maine — The first of two townwide votes on wind farm rules left the current wind turbine setbacks in place.

A Clifton Task Force on Wind petition question put before voters Tuesday that would have drastically increased setbacks was defeated, 230-177, according to election results provided by Town Clerk Cathy Jordan.

During the vote counting, “one from each side was in the room,” Jordan said, referring to opponents and proponents of wind energy in town.

With the local referendum, school budget referendum and state primaries, the town’s 12 vote counters worked until nearly midnight.

“It was 11:30 to 11:45 [p.m.] before we were done,” Jordan said.

Residents will head to the polls again on July 1 to cast ballots about enacting wind farm and other amendments to the land use code. Removing some portions of the 28-page wind farm ordinance and new sound restrictions near homes are proposed.

Planners approved the five-turbine Pisgah Mountain wind farm two years ago, but 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.

Clifton Planning Board members have met every Wednesday since January to change the ordinance and address the Maine Business and Consumer Court judge’s concerns, chairman Eric Johns has said.

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. Those submission requirements have been removed, Johns said.

The proposed land use code changes eliminate different day and night sound 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.

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,” the planning board chair has said.

“Julie and I really appreciate the 177 neighbors who voted for a fair setback, or who just know that industrial wind turbines do not fit in Clifton,” Peter Beckford said in a Wednesday evening email. “A strong showing, that’s a lot of people. We’re looking ahead to the next vote, July 1, in this double header.”

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.
Arguments in that case will be made in July or August, and the decision is expected in the months that follow, Fuller said Wednesday. He said the Pisgah Mountain partners are pleased with the town’s vote.

“It was never about health and safety. It was never about property value — it was all about stopping the wind project,” he said.

The proposed land use amendments strengthen the already stringent wind energy rules to provide more protections to residents, and they are supported by Fuller and his local partners.

“It corrects the technical flaws,” he said. “The judge said that a waiver wouldn’t work and to go back and change the land use code, and that’s exactly what they did.”

The proposed changes “gut our wind ordinance in favor of the developer, and which [we think] are illegal,” Beckford said.

“Those revisions affect many other projects in Clifton besides the Pisgah one. We look forward to getting the full story to the voters and anticipate even more support for protecting landowners when we go to the polls July 1,” Paula Kelso, a task force member, said in an email.

As a sign of the tensions in town, signs from both the opponents and supporters of wind energy in town were vandalized this week.

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