DIXFIELD — The Board of Selectmen held a meeting with the Planning Board and lawyer Kristin Collins of Kelly & Collins, LLC, Monday night to discuss edits made to the town's wind ordinance.
During a Nov. 26 selectmen's meeting, the board unanimously approved a motion to invite the Planning Board to Monday's meeting with Collins. At the beginning of the meeting, Collins said the town's wind ordinance, as is, ranks “somewhere between being wind-friendly and not being wind-friendly.” She added that she's assisted several other Maine towns in drafting wind ordinances, and that they're all “more or less looking the same.”
Selectman Hart Daley brought up several questions in the newly edited ordinance, including whether or not zoning out Colonel Holman Mountain ridge and allowing wind companies access to the ridge instead was a type of “discriminatory action.”
“I have a worry that the people who live on the Colonel Holman Mountain ridge aren't getting equal protection in the ordinance,” Daley said, explaining that residents on the east side of Route 2 aren't receiving the same treatment in the ordinance as those on the west side of Route 2.
“We zoned off Holman Ridge, but what's to stop the wind company from coming in and challenging the ordinance in the future?” Daley asked Collins.
Another concern Daley brought up was changing the wording of the setback circle from “4,000 feet away from a resident's property lines” to “4,000 feet away from a resident's occupied dwelling.” Daley said there is a huge difference.
“Changing the language to 'occupied dwelling' is taking away the rights of the resident,” Daley said. “The ordinance says that the wind turbines shouldn't affect the 'health, safety or right to quiet enjoyment' of the property. Moving the turbines 4,000 feet closer to a resident's house is taking away from that enjoyment.”
Collins told Daley to be cautious of how setback circles around property are addressed in the ordinance.
“In real life, 4,000 feet may prevent a wind company from setting things up,” Collins said. “That's where you're in danger of a lawsuit.”
“What's more important, protecting a wind company or protecting a human being?” Daley replied.
Selectman Scott Belskis agreed with Daley, adding that a wind tower may spin “up to 175 mph in a strong wind,” and if there were to be an accident, 4,000 feet would not be a great enough distance to prevent any debris from affecting a resident's property.
“Something like that affects the value of the property, too,” Belskis said.
Belskis later suggested that selectmen and the Planning Board draft a letter to towns that have experience with wind turbines in the community and see what their opinions are.
Daley also brought up the fact that the wind companies should be providing funds for decommissioning up front, in case the wind company “were to go belly up before they're done working.”
Collins agreed and suggested selectmen include a statement in the ordinance that they want the wind company to “provide 100 percent of the decommissioning funds by the time the project is complete.”
Selectmen later voted unanimously to allow the Planning Board to utilize certain town resources, including Collins' legal expertise, while conducting research.
Collins was optimistic that the board could continue strengthening the ordinance.
“The ordinance you have now is good,” Collins said, “but I'm not saying you wouldn't get a lawsuit from a property owner or a wind company. There are things that could be done to make this a stronger ordinance.”