CLIFTON, Maine — It was time for celebratory cookies and brownies for a local couple who grow perennial plants after they learned Thursday that a judge had ruled in their favor in a fight against a proposed wind farm near their home.
Peter and Julie Beckford, owners of Rebel Hill Farm, sued the town earlier this year, saying the planning board did not follow the Clifton Land Use Code when it approved the $25 million Pisgah Mountain wind farm two years ago. A Maine Business and Consumer Court judge determined Wednesday that the Clifton Planning Board erred in approving the project and nullified the wind farm’s permit.
“It is huge,” Peter Beckford said of the superior court decision at a press conference held at the home of Paula Kelso, a former Clifton planning board member who provided the sweets for the celebration.
“In this case, the judge has said, one, that the application was not in compliance with the Clifton Land Use Ordinance, and two, that the Clifton Planning Board approved it anyway, which they are not allowed to do,” Beckford said.
While the decision is a disappointing setback, developer Paul Fuller of Bangor said Thursday that he is confident a wind farm on Pisgah Mountain will someday be a reality.
“This is a great project, and I’m going to see it through whatever it takes,” he said.
Superior Court Justice Andrew Horton was tasked with reviewing the permitted five-turbine wind farm project. He sent the plan back to town planners asking for more information on tower heights and whether the applicant complied with sound standards of the land use code. Both the town and the Beckfords issued additional findings the judge considered.
Horton’s 12-page decision states the town ordinance requires pre-construction contour maps, which were waived by the planning board, and the maps are needed to determine other sound factors within the plan.
“Pisgah’s admitted failure to submit any such maps means that its application should not have been approved,” the judge wrote.
The $25 million Pisgah Mountain wind farm is proposed by Fuller, his wife Sandy, and their local partners.
“They are technicalities. That is what the judge got stuck on,” Paul Fuller said, adding that the judge had to work within the constraints of a 28-page wind energy ordinance on the books in Clifton.
After the Clifton Planning Board approved the Pisgah Mountain LLC project two years ago, the Beckfords unsuccessfully appealed to the town’s board of appeals and after that filed the subsequent lawsuit against the town.
“[Horton] found that the planning board and Pisgah did not meet the requirements of the Clifton Land Use Ordinance on two parts, the low frequency and waiver submission,” Fuller said. “He said the planning board didn’t have the right to issue a waiver [for pre-construction iso-contour maps].”
The Pisgah partners have already submitted a second wind farm plan, that local planners decided in November they would not review until after Horton made his decision.
The newest application addresses most of the concerns raised by Horton and the Beckfords, according to Fuller.
“We absolutely remain committed to seeing this project through — this will not stop us,” the developer said. “These things are never easy, and we respect the judge’s decision. We’ll figure out how to move forward.”
There are several options on the table, Fuller said.
“We can appeal the judge’s decision and go before the supreme court, which has seven judges,” he said. “We could go that route, but another route is to go with another application. There is a couple of things we need to iron out before deciding which route to take.”
Any appeal would need to be filed within the next three weeks, Fuller said.
While the Pisgah partners work to determine what steps to take next, the Beckfords are enjoying their victory.
“We are relieved, and hopeful that the future will not bring noise pollution to our land and difficult decisions about moving from the land we love,” Peter Beckford said.
“We know it isn’t over,” he said later.