In the cultural atmosphere, Americans see their freedoms and rights being challenged in many ways. Our government representatives strive to balance personal individual rights with the rights, safety and protection of the general population. Whether it is with regard to health care or global warming, we as a society have to make decisions for the good of the “whole” that sometimes inconvenience the “few.”
As an example, fair and reasonable zoning laws that protect shared community values and quality of life, and which minimize legitimate public harm, are good and beneficial to society when properly applied. However, laws that center on the personal protectionist wishes of a minority, and therefore unfairly “take” freedom and value from private property owners without just compensation, is an example of public and government overreach. In some cases, this overreach also can “take” from the broader public in the form of lost taxes and jobs.
The efforts of Pisgah Mountain LLC to develop a wind farm in Clifton are an example of this social dynamic. Pisgah Mountain is trying to build a wind farm that would produce enough electricity for 4,000 to 5,000 homes — five wind turbines with a capacity of 1,800 kilowatts each. Industry experts have said that this development is one of the best in the country for setbacks. Scientists have proven that there is no danger to the health of people at the setbacks Pisgah Mountain proposes to people’s homes.
Pisgah Mountain’s wind turbines would be on the land owned by my wife, Sandy Fuller, and me. It would be farther away from people’s homes than any other wind farm in New England, according to our research, and conversations with town managers and noise consultants during this process. It would provide a strong tax flow to the town of Clifton with millions of dollars over the life of the project. Clifton residents have voted in favor of the wind farm six times in five years.
The Clifton Planning Board has worked for six months not only to address concerns from community members about noise levels from wind turbines but many other elements affecting the community as a whole. The proposed revision is much stricter when it comes to noise by applying a lower, constant nighttime limit regardless of whether it’s night or day. And it applies new sound limits for property lines even in remote forested land.
The new ordinance also provides some specific protections regarding new types of health care-related businesses, such as medicinal marijuana and drug use treatment facilities. It provides relief from stringent site plan requirements for people wishing to open up space in their homes for bed and breakfast operations. It creates broader public impact assessments, such as adverse impact studies on real property values for large projects and extends the review deadlines, reducing stress on the planning board to make a quick decision.
The proposed ordinance provides broader protection and opportunity for community participation. Yet, naysayers in the Clifton community continue to mislead the public with fear-mongering and misinformation. They have made the confounding claim that despite tightening the sound limit for wind farms, the proposed changes “gut our wind ordinance in favor of the developer,” as one person stated in a June 11 BDN article.
These opponents are the same activists who, 14 years ago, opposed the Maritimes and Northeast gas pipeline through Clifton. They were successful in this effort, costing Clifton potentially $825,000 in lost tax revenue — which is the amount Eddington collected instead of this town. Clifton has to take $22,000 annually from its savings account — called the undesignated fund — to balance the budget. That would not be true had the Maritimes and Northeast gas pipeline company been allowed to bring its gas line through Clifton. I wonder what Clifton’s budget will be five years from now if Pisgah Mountain is prevented from developing its wind farm.
On July 1, Clifton will vote on a needed amendment to the land use ordinance, adding new protections for the community, while preserving a balance of property rights for all. A “yes” vote enables science-based, practical and enforceable regulations reviewed by independent town-contracted professionals. The people will once again be able to exercise their right to vote and protect the freedoms and principles of property rights on which this country was founded.
Paul Fuller owns the land in Clifton on which the wind farm would be built and is principal owner of Pisgah Mountain LLC.