Thursday, February 21, 2008

Latest shot at wind farm project left hanging

Kennebec Journal
February 21, 2008

FREEDOM -- A second bid to reinstate a commercial building ordinance has failed.

The board of selectmen took no action Friday on resident Jeff Keating's petition to hold a secret ballot vote at next month's town meeting to reinstate the Commercial Development Review Ordinance.

The delay means there will be no vote at town meeting. It also could mean that Keating has to begin the process anew for the third time.

"It's kind of a big game," Keating said. "It's kind of aggravating. The rules keep changing."

Keating, who owns property on Sibley Lane near the Beaver Ridge site where three electricity-generating wind turbines are to be built later this year, said he closely followed selectmen's instructions when circulating his most recent petition.

An earlier version was rejected after an attorney with Maine Municipal Association advised that the petition was improperly circulated because it did not include a copy of the ordinance Keating sought to reinstate.

The Commercial Development Review Ordinance was developed and adopted in 2006 after Portland-based Competitive Energy Services submitted an application to erect three, 400-foot turbines on Beaver Ridge.

The planning board initially determined that the project met the requirements of the ordinance, but the board of appeals subsequently determined that the turbines would not meet noise standards and Competitive Energy had not met requirements for a decommissioning bond.

Residents at a special town meeting in June that was prompted by a petition drive voted to rescind the ordinance, thus opening the door for Competitive Energy to apply for a permit under the much more lenient building ordinance.

The company was approved to begin construction last summer, though neighbors, including Keating, recently filed notice with the board of appeals arguing that the project's development has not met the pace required by the building code.

The turbines are to be erected later this year.

Keating's second petition was circulated and filed with a copy of the ordinance and it was certified by Town Clerk Cindy Abbott.

But when it went before selectmen Friday, Richard Silkman of Competitive Energy argued that the petition should be rejected because it represented a new vote on an issue residents had already decided.

Silkman cited a 1990 superior court decision that determined selectmen in Vassalboro could reject a petition to revote on a school construction issue.

It was the first case to suggest that town officials can prevent "ping-ponging" referendum issues by dissatisfied voters, according to the Maine Municipal Association manual.

The argument was enough to sway selectman Tim Biggs, who chose not to second selectwoman Lynn Hadyniak's motion to add the ordinance question on the town meeting warrant.

Biggs was unavailable Wednesday for comment.

Because Selectman Ron Price recused himself from the deliberation -- Price owns the Beaver Ridge property where the turbines are to be built -- Hadyniak's motion to approve the petition died for lack of a second and the petition was left in limbo.

Biggs is unable to attend the next two selectmen meetings, which guarantees the ordinance question cannot be placed on the March town meeting warrant.

It is unclear if selectmen can consider the same petition for a later vote, which would most likely take place in June, or if Keating will have to gather a third round of signatures.

Further complicating matters is Hadyniak's decision not to seek re-election. Her term on the board expires with the March town meeting. It is unlikely the board will consider the petition before her departure, which means the new board will have to begin deliberations from the beginning.

"Procedurally, I haven't given it much thought what that means," Hadyniak said. "For the moment, this petition is dead, but that doesn't mean the issue won't be resurrected."

Keating wonders if the board will ever allow residents to vote.

"I'm trying to play by their rules and they keep changing them," Keating said. "They had a way out to try and get rid of this vote, or at least delay it, and that's what they did."

Craig Crosby--487-3288

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