Winds of change coming to Rumford?

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RUMFORD — A desire to craft “a fair ordinance” that allows and regulates wind power is what led three of five selectmen to design and propose such a document for town meeting voters on June 14.

Selectmen will hold a public hearing on their expedited Wind Energy Facility Ordinance at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 26, in Rumford Falls Auditorium.

“What I hope to do is stay on task and talk about the ordinance only,” Chairman Brad Adley said Wednesday afternoon in Rumford.

“It can’t be a full-blown what’s good and bad about the (wind) industry. … Everything that needs to be said has been said.”

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Adley said he will also set ground rules allowing only Rumford residents to speak. He doesn’t yet know if he’ll set time limits.

Additionally, no changes will be made to the proposed ordinance from anything raised in the hearing. Selectmen made that clear at their last regular board meeting.

“With any luck, we can get through it in one piece,” Adley said. “I hope it’s a good meeting and I hope it’s not just a public flogging of us.”

The hearing will be preceded at 6 p.m. with a public hearing on extending the wind power moratorium for 60 days, and then selectmen will likely vote to extend it in the meeting that follows at 6:30 p.m.

The current moratorium expires Friday, May 27.

During the wind-ordinance hearing, Adley said he’s anticipating a non-confrontational meeting, unlike what’s happened at past meetings and workshops on the board’s wind ordinance.

“I hope we have citizens there that ask some good questions about the ordinance,” Adley said.

He said he will begin the hearing with a brief history and synopsis of how the board arrived at its current point.

In 2009, selectmen appointed a Wind Power Advisory Board and tasked them with investigating aspects of wind farms and turbine issues.

The board did that and more, taking it upon themselves to craft an ordinance to regulate wind power. That ordinance widely believed to be a permanent moratorium on wind power, was defeated on Nov. 2, 2010, by a vote of 1,339 to 1,048.

Selectmen then decided to craft their own ordinance by retrofitting to Rumford the Maine State Planning Office model wind ordinance template. That was regarded as a pro-wind power document even though it’s only a base from which to start.

After several workshops and fielding considerable criticism — mostly from the creators of the failed ordinance — it quickly became apparent that selectmen wouldn’t finalize a document before the town meeting.

The Board of Selectmen itself had repeatedly split 3-2 over the ordinance, with dissenter Greg Buccina admitting he wouldn’t vote for it and dissenter Jeremy Volkernick working for last-minute compromises.

Adley and Selectmen Jeff Sterling and Mark Belanger favored the document.

Last month, Sterling edited the defeated ordinance from 41 pages to 26 pages, simplifying much of its language into a more understandable document.

Critics accused him of gutting necessary protections they said would protect residents and prevent future lawsuits targeting Rumford.

Adley labeled many of those protections as excessive to the point of being project killers.

“To me, it’s a compromise piece of legislation,” he said.

“It provides a level of protection that’s fair to Rumford citizens and to the industry, and again, I’d like to see this industry treated fairly.”

“We didn’t invent anything; we used the original ordinance,” Adley said.

“Did we pull stuff out of it? Yes, we did. Did we put stuff into it? Yes, we did from the State Planning Office model, our Site Plan Review, and the proposed Bethel ordinance. We didn’t just pull information out of the sky and put it in.”

“Do I think this is the perfect ordinance? No, but I think it will work,” Adley said.

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

Last year, Neil Kiely, the projects manager for Boston-based wind developer First Wind, publicly labeled Rumford’s first ordinance as anti-wind. Selectmen Mark Belanger and Chairman Brad Adley did likewise.

On Tuesday, by email through First Wind consultant Crystal Canney of Canney Communications in Portland, Kiely said the new ordinance is something First Wind can work with.

“This is an ordinance created for Rumford by Rumford elected officials and we encourage voters of Rumford to support it,” Kiely said.

First Wind prompted the moratorium on wind projects when it proposed a multi-million dollar wind farm for Rumford hills.

However, they rescinded that plan after learning the wind blew too strongly atop Black Mountain for turbines they initially wanted to install.

And then, Rumford officials began crafting an ordinance to regulate such projects during the moratorium. First Wind, however, didn’t lose interest.

Kiely participated in the process when allowed to speak, sharing information with selectmen.

Should voters approve the new ordinance, Kiely said, “The original concept designs for the First Wind project on Black Mountain will need to be redesigned to comply with the ordinance.”

“We’re not certain at this time how the ordinance will impact the final engineering designs, but we are hopeful that some level of wind energy project at that site could comply with the ordinance,” he said.

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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