Wind ordinance creates turbulence in Rumford

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RUMFORD — By a 3-2 split on most items, selectmen OK’d much of Selectman Jeff Sterling’s proposed wind ordinance at Wednesday night’s special board meeting.

It was not without hearing a lot of grief from many in the audience who said Sterling’s measure doesn’t protect the town enough. They favored the more restrictive ordinance that was defeated by a majority in November.

Resident and businessman Roger Arsenault accused the board of not knowing what they were doing in seemingly approving sections blindly and hurriedly.

“I’ve got the fear of God about what’s going to happen,” he said of what he expects about litigation ensuing should voters approve the ordinance next month.

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“Your minds are already made up and I don’t think that’s right.”

Peter Buotte, who with Arsenault drafted the defeated ordinance, accused the board of “quadrupling the noise that’s going to be in this community,” by increasing the allowed decibel limit.

On the sound safety setback Sterling changed his proposed 2,000 feet to 3,000 feet and left it from a dwelling and not property line as several, including Selectmen Jeremy Volkernick and Greg Buccina, wanted. It was approved 3-2 with Volkernick and Buccina dissenting.

Resident and businessman Jim Thibodeau, who also helped draft the defeated ordinance, accused some board members of not caring about the safety of Rumford’s residents.

Several in the crowd also accused the majority of pandering to a wind developer spokesman, Neil Kiely, of Boston-based First Wind.

Kiely on the other hand, described several of their comments as “fear mongering.”

He also objected at various points in the discussion to what he called unfair regulations, saying parts of the ordinance single out the wind industry and do not require the same standards of other industries in town such as the gas plant or paper mill.

Additionally, the selectmen voting in the minority most of the night — Volkernick and Buccina — left without saying a word while the meeting was still progressing, Buccina first and then Volkernick at about 9:30 p.m.

It wasn’t clear if they simply left in disgust or whether they had to work.

Both favored a more restrictive ordinance that they said would offer more protection to residents and prevent the town from becoming embroiled in future litigation.

When Buccina left, most of those who railed against Sterling, Selectmen Mark Belanger and Chairman Brad Adley, got up en masse and noisily left, too.

Later, Volkernick loudly objected to one section. He demanded that they write a moratorium into the ordinance that would restrict the first developer to 10 or 12 turbines for five years.

He said he sought that to determine if the ordinance was working on behalf of the town or needed tweaking.

Volkernick said he wanted this as a small concession for what the majority got earlier, but his motion died for lack of a second.

The board then cruised through several other sections with the same tally, stumbling over the Stray Voltage Assessment and Requirements.

After a few people argued that wind farms generate and don’t generate stray voltage, and after Kiely argued that there isn’t any science to prove this, Buccina and Volkernick got Sterling to agree with them to leave it in.

Volkernick had one victory when he convinced the board to table the section on fire prevention and emergency response plan and requirements. He wants fire Chief Bob Chase to review the language to better protect the town.

When Buccina left after the 3-2 vote approving the Decommissioning section, tallies on other sections were 4-0 or 3-1 with Volkernick the lone dissenter until he, too, left.

The board was still deliberating the proposal by 9:45 p.m.

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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