FORT KENT, Maine — Residents will have the opportunity at the next annual town meeting to decide the fate of a citizens petition seeking a 180-day moratorium on the construction or processing of applications for wind power facilities.

The annual Fort Kent town meeting is in March.

Members of the public were excluded from the Town Council’s deliberation of the proposed moratorium Monday night after the council voted to enter into executive session to discuss the matter with its attorney, Robert Plourde.

After the closed-door session, whose legality has been challenged by the Bangor Daily News, the council voted to include the petitioners’ warrant request at the next annual town meeting and to request that the petitioners submit a draft warrant item and draft moratorium ordinance by Dec. 31, and directed the town manager to assemble a list of people willing to participate in a study group to review the proposed ordinance and report to the Town Council and planning board.

The original petition, submitted by the group Citizens for Responsible Wind Development and signed by more than 200 residents, was a response to Texas-based Horizon Wind, which has been negotiating lease agreements with land-owners in the Fort Kent area and in other parts of Aroostook County.

Horizon has yet to file an application with state or local authorities, but company officials have said they hope to build as many as 400 wind turbines in Aroostook.

The petition stated that Fort Kent’s current land use laws are inadequate to deal with industrial wind power developments and that the town has a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of residents.

Council members spent close to 45 minutes meeting with Plourde in the closed-door session, saying only that they were discussing their “options” for dealing with the petition.

The closed-door session was challenged on the basis of Maine’s Freedom of Access law, which allows public bodies to enter executive session with legal counsel only to discuss “legal rights and duties of the body or agency, pending or contemplated litigation, settlement offers and matters where the duties of the public body’s council to his client pursuant to the code of professional responsibility clearly conflict with the [the law’s] subchapter or where premature general public knowledge would clearly place the [municipality] at a substantial disadvantage.”

Plourde defended the legality of the session.

“I was discussing a legal matter with my clients,” Plourde said. “It is my ethical duty to do so in confidence.”

An information forum on wind power organized by Citizens for Responsible Wind Development is scheduled for 7-9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 20, at Fort Kent Community High School.

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.