RUMFORD — Of the 50 or so people who attended Thursday night's public hearing on the proposed wind power ordinance, most who spoke either praised or condemned the work of the Wind Power Advisory Committee which drafted the document in seven months.
Many also strayed far from the topic at hand — the ordinance itself and whether they support it or not — and delved into the pros and cons of wind power, allegations about Boston-based wind developer First Wind, and wind power overseas and in other parts of the nation.
First Wind has tentatively proposed constructing a $60 million, 12-turbine project on sections of Black Mountain and a nearby mountain.
The hearing was the second of two on the ordinance, which will be voted on in less than 20 days.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Brad Adley, who ran the meeting, asked participants to stick to the topic, gave them time limits and then readily let people violate them unfettered because he said it was the last hearing.
And speak people did, sometimes in heated, rapid-fire debate as when Selectman Greg Buccina and First Wind project manager Neil Kiely argued about how and why the ordinance was created and whether experts in the fields of wind turbine noise and health and safety issues were consulted.
“If you were truly interested in regulating wind and protecting others' safety, how could you not go visit a facility?” Kiely asked of committee members and previous speakers who said such facilities only generate one or two jobs.
“Because if you had visited a facility you would see that there are 10 to 12 people on the site. In a nutshell, this is a simplistic approach we're looking at. I mean how could a committee meet for over a year to regulate wind energy and not bother to go to a site? How is that feasible?”
He then delved into how anyone could say that the committee didn't copy Dixmont's ordinance verbatim, which has been labeled as anti-wind.
“There are 15 pages of technical sound standards and nobody knows what they are,” Kiely said of Dixmont's standards that are in the Rumford ordinance. “If nobody knows what they are, how can you use them to regulate health and safety?”
Buccina argued that the committee did understand the technical information, but Kiely and others didn't buy it.
“The point is, if you copy information wholesale from another ordinance like the dog ordinance, how do you know what they said? These are highly technical documents,” he said.
Directing comments to committee members who said they put their personal feelings for wind power aside, Kiely implied that those anti-wind feelings would seep into the document, which prompted committee member Jim Thibodeau to reiterate that he didn't let his anti-wind stance cloud his judgment.
All along Thibodeau and others have said they drafted the ordinance to protect town residents and not to serve the needs of wind developers.
Buccina argued with Kiely that when he worked on the ordinance's technical portions, he relied on the opinions of experts and then applied that to protect the town's assets.
“This is a wind ordinance for Rumford,” Buccina said. “It's not about First Wind. The people of our community need to be protected. . . . If it has commonality with another town's ordinance, then so be it.”
He also said that any of Rumford's ordinances can be tweaked if the guidelines are later proven to be incorrect.
Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association in Augusta, said he reviewed the ordinance with wind developers and sided with Kiely's evaluation.
“This ordinance can only be characterized as anti-wind,” Payne said. “There's a clear consensus that if this is passed no wind company will ever build a wind farm in Rumford.”
First Wind acoustics engineer Scott Bodwell explained why Payne's statements are correct. He said that the noise limits are so restrictive that a company doesn't have to operate its turbines at all and they would still violate the standards.
“This town would be better served if it rejects the ordinance and works with a certified acoustical engineer on a new ordinance,” Bodwell said.
Despite statements from committee members that they did not copy Dixmont's ordinance, Bodwell said they copied Dixmont's standards on noise verbatim, except for a few instances that were made even more restrictive.
“Any representations that a responsible wind developer could comply with this ordinance are simply untrue,” Payne said.
“From the sound standards to the 1-mile setback to the decommissioning standards, it's just totally and completely unworkable. This ordinance as proposed conveys one very loud message to the wind development community: 'We don't want your investments, your jobs, or your property tax contributions.'”