ROXBURY — Selectmen have learned that construction planned for this month on a 22-turbine wind farm atop local hills likely won't happen until next year.
In fact, no on-site work has been done this year on Record Hill Wind's $120 million project because of an appeal filed with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in April. The wind project opponents' appeal has tied up financing pending a favorable decision, Record Hill principal Robert Gardiner said Wednesday.
Briefs from the lawyers are due in the next several weeks, with arguments expected in late fall and a court ruling by year's end or sooner, he said.
On Aug. 20, 2009, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection approved the project and issued permits. Work began immediately in late August on an access road and the seven southernmost turbine sites before the onset of winter forced the project to be put on hold.
On Sept. 21, 2009, Concerned Citizens to Save Roxbury and other appellants who want to stop the development, appealed the DEP permit to the Maine Board of Environmental Protection.
In March, the board met to consider the appeal and after lengthy discussion, voted to uphold the permit and approve the project.
Undaunted, the appellants appealed to the state's highest court.
“Although the outcome cannot be predicted with any certainty, the fact that the court decided a very similar case in favor of another wind project in Maine just this March makes us optimistic that the permit will be upheld,” Gardiner wrote to Roxbury selectmen in a letter dated Sept. 3.
Gardiner was referring to the court's decision that reaffirmed state approval of Evergreen Wind Power III LLC's 40-turbine wind farm on Rollins Mountain in northern Penobscot County, according to a Bangor Daily News story.
The unanimous ruling also upheld the constitutionality of a state law fast-tracking the permit process for Maine wind farms.
“The Supreme Court appeal of licenses is an obstacle to the financing,” Gardiner said. “We had hoped to resume construction late this summer but are in a holding pattern awaiting the outcome of the Supreme Court case, which, in turn, is necessary to clear the way for project financing.
“Although the times are challenging for financing, generally, and for energy projects in particular, we are in active and positive discussions on the financing package, subject to final negotiations and a favorable court decision,” Gardiner said.
“We cannot predict now whether we will restart construction before winter sets in or have to wait until spring," he said. "Until we really know the Supreme Court schedule — and they don't really have a schedule — we're sort of left not being able to say firmly what our (construction) schedule is."
He said he and co-principal Angus King were confident about the Supreme Court appeal.
“But whatever shroud of doubt there is, is an issue for lenders these days,” Gardiner said.
He said they've continued to monitor erosion control measures that were installed last fall to ensure no runoff from the project is reaching Roxbury Pond.
They also provided the town of Roxbury with necessary funding for water quality testing this summer at the pond.
Completed work so far includes the access road, minus a surface coat of fine gravel, a crane path for the seven southernmost turbines and turbine pads for all seven, Gardiner said.
“So, we're a third of the way through the civil engineering work,” he said. “We stopped there because that was a good way to put that to bed, so it could be environmentally stable. So, whenever we get the green light, we'll be ready to move ahead.”
Despite the delay, the project is still on track to be completed by the end of next year.
“Of course, the timetable could slip, as well, but it seems very realistic to us today,” Gardiner said.
That would mean completion of the access road and foundation work over the upcoming spring and summer, with turbine delivery in late summer or early fall.
"Once the site is ready, turbine erection is a relatively speedy process,” he said.