AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has appealed a Kennebec County judge’s ruling that chastised Commissioner Patricia Aho for her role in responding to complaints by neighbors over noise from Vinalhaven wind turbines.
“On behalf of DEP, the attorney general’s office has filed an appeal of the Superior Court’s decision in the Fox Islands Wind case,” DEP communications director Jessamine Logan said.
The March 10 ruling by Justice Michaela Murphy came in a court appeal filed by neighbors of the turbines.
The appeal to the Maine Law Court was filed March 28 by both the DEP and Fox Islands Wind, developer of the project.
Logan said since the lawsuit was filed, Fox Islands Wind made modifications to the turbines to reduce noise and not a single complaint has been filed with the DEP.
“If the department receives further noise complaints, we have the authority to take appropriate enforcement action, including to establish additional conditions on Fox Islands Wind in order to bring the project into compliance,” she said.
Murphy reversed Aho’s June 30, 2011, ruling, which sharply limited the times when Fox Islands had to take action to reduce noise from its wind turbines. The judge said that there was no rational basis nor relevant evidence to justify Aho’s amended compliance order that simply limited noise reduction requirements when there were the same weather conditions as the two days — July 17 and 18, 2010 — that the turbines were found to have exceeded the state’s noise limit of 45 decibels at night.
Murphy ordered the matter remanded to the DEP for the issuance of a complaint compliance order that would be consistent with the findings of an expert that the department had hired but whose recommendation was overridden by Aho.
Murphy criticized Aho for participating in the department’s handling of the Fox Islands Winds case because Aho had worked as an energy industry lobbyist for Pierce Atwood LLC before she was appointed deputy DEP commissioner and then acting commissioner on June 20, 2011.
Pierce Atwood represents Fox Islands Wind. Aho overrode the DEP staff and an outside consultant’s recommendation 10 days after she became acting commissioner.
“That issue, which could have been avoided, has created an enormous amount of mistrust by the [Fox Islands Wind] neighbors as to whether their grievances can receive fair treatment by the commissioner and the department,” Murphy stated in the conclusion of her ruling.
The judge also said Aho’s continued participation could be viewed as “antithetical to the common notions of impartiality which Maine citizens understandably expect from decision-makers in Maine agencies.”
The three nearly 400-foot-tall wind turbines were erected in 2009 with a dedication ceremony in November of that year. The $14.5 million project gained approval of island voters in July 2008. The project’s aim was to reduce electricity costs on the island and rely more on renewable energy.