Tough job for selectmen
To the Editor:
At past selectman's meetings, it was very evident that the board has a very difficult challenge at hand. They are attempting to develop a wind ordinance to protect the health and well being of the citizens of Rumford. During the meeting the difficulty of such a project surfaced. Every word shapes the future of our town.
It is my firm belief that the majority of the board has the best interest of the town at heart and that they have to balance protecting the town while allowing economic growth. What has transpired this year is backing the selectman and the town into a corner. The moratorium runs out in May and the town needs to vote on an ordinance at the June town meeting.
This quick ordinance that is being developed is being modeled after the State Planning Office model which is an outdated model, has flaws in it, as expressed by the DEP, and has not been updated for over three years. Projects that have been built in communities under this model have had controversy as the wind farms begin operation. Law suits are pending in all three communities.
One would hope that our selectman would learn from others mistakes. Should the voters decide against this ordinance in June, we would automatically revert to the DEP guidelines that afford little protection to a community who host an industrial wind farm.
What is at stake is very complex and should not be rushed into. I believe the board started out in the right direction by appointing a Rumford Ordinance Committee, whose job was to develop an ordinance to protect the health and well being of its residents, while allowing wind development that would not hurt our community. This process took over eight months of regular meetings with great participation by the committee.
It soon became evident by this committee that an ordinance cannot be developed from scratch but needed to be built on and tailored for the town it serves. Unfortunately, this select board did not fully endorse the work it commissioned and allowed
the voters to choose its fate. The vote was very close but a door-to-door campaign, with some deceptive information, and an industrial wind developer spending a great deal of money against the ordinance, helped to defeat it.
Unfortunately, the wind developer did not have the best interest of the town at hand but only their profits and a return for their investors. Wind energy is suppose to reduce our energy cost, reduce carbon emission, reduce pollution, reduce our taxes and create jobs. But does it?
If only this was black and white. If only our electric rates and delivery charges would be lower. If only our taxes would go down. If only this would not affect the value of homes around such a project. If only the scenic view would not be affected.
If only we knew how much electricity they produced. If only we knew how much noise they create and who will be affected. If only we really knew what we are giving up for a promise of economic development.
If we did then this would not be such a hard decision.
In the two and a half years that the Longfellow Project on Black Mountain, South Twin and North Twin has been proposed, it is difficult for anyone to get sound and truthful information about such a project. Why is this? It would be very simple and residents who have to decide on the future of their community would have this information first hand. The developer is in the area, attends all of our selectmen's meetings but when asked to come to the table and explain what is being proposed, say that they do not have a project yet.
This is common practice for a developer to not put themselves in the public eye so that the public can ask the hard questions. They have had no problem telling the community that they will bring $60 million to our tax base. Is this really what we will see in tax relief? Is this the true value of the project? How will it affect State revenue sharing to the community? How will this affect State school subsidies to the community? Exactly what will this project do for our taxes? How will a TIF affect our taxes? How many people will be employed? What are we giving up on future development in this community if industrial wind is not right for Rumford? All of these things are important if the right vote is to take place on the next ordinance.
What will happen at the next few Selectman meetings and workshops is not the best process? Mr. Belanger wants the board to adopt the State Planning Office model as it is and after it is voted in, then it can be changed. This model was made for developers by the Baldacci administration to expedite industrial wind development for our state. Unfortunately, one size does not fit all. I am sure that a developer and their permit are waiting in the wings to be submitted if this model is passed.
Why should such a process be rushed at this point? Each day, other towns surrounding Rumford are adopting ordinances with new information to base it on. As more projects come online, living with these projects becomes clearer.
If selectman feel pressured to do the right thing, one more solution can be put on the table. The defeated Rumford Ordinance can be put back out to vote. With more education in the next two months and the selectman insisting that the developer hold a public hearing on their project, Rumford citizens will have a choice.
As Mr. Belanger said, if it is too harsh to a developer, we would have time to change it for the best interest of the community. Every taxpayer and resident should attend every selectmen's meeting and listen carefully. Become educated and more importantly, vote at the next election for what you think is right for your community.
We are fortunate to have great mountain ridges and scenic views in our community. Not one but many. Remember, what you decide for one project will open up every ridge line in our Community for development. Our mountains are not going anywhere. Why rush and be sorry.