CLIFTON, Maine — Developers, local opponents and town officials are scheduled to deliver another round of oral arguments Wednesday before a Penobscot County Superior Court judge who will determine if the $25 million Pisgah Mountain wind farm goes forward.
The five-turbine project was approved by the Clifton Planning Board two years ago, but has been stalled by local farmers Peter and Julie Beckford, who sued to stop the project in 2011.
Superior Court Justice Andrew Horton sent the permitted Pisgah Mountain wind farm project back to planners in May, telling the panel it had neglected to adequately explain how it determined the application complied with the town’s strict land use ordinance. He asked for additional information on sound and height restrictions for the project.
The board held a two-day workshop in August and issued nearly 30 additional facts and findings, mostly addressing the sound issues identified by the judge.
“The planning board submitted arguments back to the court and the Beckfords submitted arguments against the planning board,” Clifton Planning Board chairman Eric Johns said Monday.
The Beckfords own a 60-acre perennial farm on Rebel Hill Road that sits about 4,500 feet from the proposed turbines.
Horton affirmed most of the Clifton planning board’s October 2011 decision regarding the wind farm that was first proposed in 2009, but he requested more information about potential low-frequency sound violations, tower heights, sound study narratives and special maps, and the inclusion of a Maine Department of Environmental Protection excessive noise penalty standard, rather than the stricter Clifton land use ordinance penalty.
The planning board’s additional facts and findings include:
— Seven points about height in support of the proposed 450-foot-tall turbines, including that telecommunication and meteorological towers do not have height restrictions.
— Five additional findings that sound narratives requested by Horton are available in several places including a sound study and an email to the town’s code enforcement officer.
— Five points about tonal sound, including excerpts from two sound studies and a letter from David Hessler, the town’s sound consultant, stating the turbines on Pisgah Mountain would not create tonal problems at locations regulated by the land use ordinance, and that adding a five-decibel tonal penalty would make no difference in those findings.
— Seven additional findings about low frequency sound levels, including a note saying the low-frequency sound table the judge referenced as showing a violation was later revised to meet town regulations.
— Four points about required iso-contour maps, including a letter stating the board decided in April 2011 to only require post-construction maps and not preconstruction maps as required in the land use ordinance.
The board also voted that preconstruction iso-contour maps are “not useful” in determining if a project meets sound standards and therefore waived the town requirement of preconstruction maps in the plan.
Peter Beckford said Monday that he and his wife doubt that the waiver is legal and also question other findings by the planning board and say the permit should be denied.
“We think it’s pretty simple,” he said.
When Paul and Sandy Fuller of Bangor first approached the town about building the wind farm in 2009, the community had no specific regulations in place regarding turbines.
So, local officials spent a year researching every wind power ordinance in the state and some from around the country and ended up creating a melting pot of a regulation that set the most restrictive sound limits in Maine.
“There was perhaps some mixing and matching that probably didn’t line up that well,” Johns said in August about the town’s 28-page wind farm ordinance approved by residents in 2010.
There are currently nine completed wind projects in operation in Maine, according to the Natural Resources Council of Maine, but 17 others are in varying stages of development. The wind industry has taken off in Maine relatively quickly since the first project was completed only six years ago in Mars Hill.
The Clifton ordinance is written to be strict to protect residents, but it includes detailed formulas for measuring sound levels that no regular volunteer board member would be able to decipher, Johns said. He summed up the process of calculating sound limits for wind turbines in five words.
“It makes our heads hurt,” he said just before planners held their two-day marathon workshop.
The delays, while frustrating, are all part of the American way, Fuller has said.
Johns said the judge had to review approximately 8,000 pages of documents regarding the small industrial wind farm.
Oral arguments before Horton are scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Penobscot Judicial Center.