Frankfort voters reject referendum that would have repealed restrictive wind ordinance
FRANKFORT — Frankfort residents voted Tuesday by 138 votes to retain their existing wind energy ordinance rather than repealing it and adopting the state's model wind ordinance. The tally was 224 in favor of repeal to 362 opposed.
The vote prevents the Waldo Community Wind project, a planned six-turbine, 18-megawatt wind power project proposed by Portsmouth, N.H.- based Eolian Renewable Energy LLC, from going forward. According to Eolian, the project would have delivered clean, emission-free power to about 6,500 homes across Maine and New England.
Frankfort had no municipal land-use ordinances before its wind energy ordinance was adopted in 2011. According to previously published reports, that ordinance came in response to the initial proposal by Eolian to erect four to six turbines on Mount Waldo.
Concerned about negative impacts on abutting properties and property owners, residents approved a 180-day moratorium in March 2011 and established a five-member committee to draft the wind energy-specific ordinance. The resulting ordinance included one-mile setbacks from abutting property lines and restrictive noise regulations that amounted to a ban on industrial-scale wind turbines. That ordinance was passed in December 2011 by only 22 votes.
The landowners of the proposed wind farm site on Mount Waldo then brought a lawsuit against the town over the ordinance. At the town meeting in March 2013, town members voted 178-131 against a consent order that would have settled the lawsuit by allowing the wind project to go forward. The item was placed on the warrant in exchange for the plaintiffs agreeing to drop monetary damage claims regardless of the outcome of the vote.
Citizens petitioned in August to bring the question to a vote, and two of the three selectmen supported placing it on the November ballot. A public hearing was held in October, which about 35 people attended, according to Frankfort selectmen. The town also held a hearing on tax-related questions about the project.
If it had gone forward, the Waldo County Wind project would have been the largest taxpayer in the town. Jack Kenworthy, CEO of Eolian, wrote in a guest column in this paper that, according to a recent analysis, "The first-year tax amount will be well above $300,000 and then the annual amounts will increase ... [which could] reduce the local mill rate by between 25 percent and 35 percent for the first three years and then by about 10 percent each year thereafter."
Eolian was also offering a $100,000 benefit package to the town that includes funds for local scholarships, support for both Frankfort fire departments, aid for several local charities and an energy rebate fund available to all Frankfort residents. The company conducted a town-wide survey and canvassed door to door for public comment to determine the most popular items to include.
However, Selectman Joe Watson said Monday, Nov. 3, that he was uncertain whether the project would indeed benefit Frankfort.
"I have no idea," he said, "They make it sound good, but we don't know. Things could change. No one really knows the answers right now."
Kenworthy said Mount Waldo is an ideal site for a small utility-scale wind energy project because of its outstanding wind resource and sufficient clearings and because there are already communication towers and electrical lines on the mountain.
Mount Waldo has a history of industrial use and grand but foiled plans. A quarry was in operation there, owned by Mt. Waldo Granite Works from 1853 to 1916, and then by Mt. Waldo Granite Corp. from 1930 to 1969, according to the Penobscot Marine Museum website.
After that company went bankrupt, the Small Business Administration loaned Buster Shapiro of Braintree, Mass. money to purchase the property. His plans to build a multimillion-dollar amusement park on the site and name it "Mohammed's Mountain," also fell through.1
1 from "Tombstones and Paving Blocks: The History of the Maine Granite Industry" by Roger L. Grindle.