Oxford Hills | Thursday, June 26, 2016 at 8:52 pm
PARIS — There appeared to be multiple controversies on simmer at the same time regarding a possible wind power project in Milton Township that was discussed at the monthly meeting of the Oxford County Commissioners.
Milton is in the county's unorganized territory, so it has no local government. Its citizens must bring their issues to the county commissioners for a hearing.
Earlier this year EverPower, a Pittsburgh company, began exploring the possibility of installing a wind power electrical generation site in Milton Township. Maine state law encourages the development of wind power. Since Milton is an unorganized territory, the Maine Land Use Planning Commission has pre-provided a broad scale pre-zoning of the state's unorganized territories, determining that wind power is an appropriate use within these territories with appropriate permitting.
The LUPC further determined that within the unorganized territory, the permitting may be conducted under a so-called "expedited" process. A full-scale and lengthy rezoning process must include an extensive and separate permitting process with public hearings by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
The Maine Legislature last year passed a bill that allowed registered voters in unorganized territories to challenge the expedited track of wind power project permitting by circulating a petition. If 10 percent of the territory's voters signed a petition asking for a full permitting review, it becomes the responsibility of the LUPC to request information and conduct hearings on the individual project.
Milton Township returned such a petition to the LUPC. Although it contained only 17 signatures, it was more than twice the number needed to power up the LUPC "Substantive Review" mechanism.
After receipt of the petition, the LUPC then seeks input from any citizen, groups of citizens, on up the scale to local governing bodies, to submit comments on the proposed wind generation project. In this case, the LUPC determined input regarding the EverPower proposal in Milton must be received in Augusta by a deadline of June 29.
As part of the review process, the LUPC sent the Oxford County commissioners a packet of documents requesting information on the Milton area, including scenic resources, recreational uses and resources, community character, economic development, residential uses and public infrastructure.
The commissioners on Tuesday listened to testimony from Sara Vanderwood of MaineStreet Solutions; Gordy Smith, an attorney from Verrill Dana, and Richard Halacy, a Milton resident, all of whom support the EverPower proposal, versus skeptical residents of abutting the town of Woodstock, Ed Rosenberg and Peter Fetchko.
The main controversy centered on the request to the commissioners from Vanderwood and Smith that the expedited permitting process should be retained, versus the appeal from Rosenberg and Smith that Milton should be removed from the expedited area.
Another controversy focused on transparency and open communication. Rosenberg and Fetchko complained that EverPower had not communicated with municipal governments in the four abutting towns of Bethel, Peru, Rumford and Woodstock about the wind power project being considered in neighboring Milton.
A telephone check with town government offices in each of these municipalities on Friday returned responses that none of the four town governments had received any contact from EverPower about the Milton project proposal. Woodstock Town Manager Vern Maxfield responded, "Absolutely not," when asked the question. EverPower has only directly communicated its intentions with the Oxford County Commission, in its de facto role as the governing body for the unincorporated community of Milton Township.
After nearly an hour of discussion, Oxford County Commissioner Steven Merrill said, "I think from the point of view from the Land Use Planning Commission's request, I would make a motion that we respond to their request and give them the input they asked for by checking this box here saying, 'After review of the petition and consideration of the substantive review, we have: No information on the specified area.'"
Commission Chairman David Duguay commented, "No information regarding, basically, what they're looking for."
"Right," Merrill said. "So that's part one."
All three commissioners voted to approve Merrill's first motion.
"On part two," Merrill continued, "which is EverPower's request for support for their position, to be within the expedited process ..."
Merrill briefly questioned Halacy about a meeting he had hosted for EverPower and Milton residents to discuss the wind generation project.
"I guess, Mr. Chairman," Merrill continued, "at this point I'd be in favor of making a motion that the commissioners support EverPower's position. There seems to be plenty of opportunities left for more discussion amongst the residents of Milton, basically, and other towns, too. And I think that the process will move forward in a logical manner, and it's transparent enough."
The board unanimously voted to approve Merrill's motion to retain the status quo "expedited" permitting process recommendation on EverPower's behalf to the LUPC.
The town of Woodstock is not making the same recommendation, however. On June 13 the Woodstock Board of Selectmen wrote the LUPC, "The Woodstock Board of Selectmen respectfully request that the Land Use Planning Commission remove Milton Township from the Expedited Permitting Area For Wind Energy Development. We do so for several reasons, foremost of which is our obligation to the citizens of Woodstock who, because of our contiguous border with Milton Township, will be in jeopardy of negative impacts to their property values, scenic views and quality of life."
The selectmen wrote that they had only recently learned of a potential 12-turbine wind farm "that may have very serious consequences not only for Woodstock and Milton Township residents, but also for our neighboring communities of Bethel, Rumford and Greenwood.
We strongly feel that any wind farm developer should be obligated to inform and work closely with the communities to be impacted. This has not occurred."
Bettina Testerman is one of the 17 Milton registered voters who signed the original petition to remove the EverPower project from the expedited permitting process. When told how the commissioners voted she said, " I'm pretty upset to think that they would continue without knowing what they're voting on. That makes me think they're not there for us."
Beyond the June 29 LUPC deadline to receive input about the expedited permitting process for EverPower in Milton Township, a public hearing at the LUPC is scheduled for Aug. 10.
NOTE/Opinion: County Commissioners are a direct ARM of the State Government, though elected by the people, they do the bidding of the Legislature or its Agencies as a form of governance for unincorporated areas in lieu of town governance. Living in the distance, where it is not in their backyards. The real NIMBY's --- where out of sight-out of mind makes it OK - ! Community Governance may pass Ordinances (local law) whereas these unorganized unincorporated areas can not though should be able to at the county level.