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Jackson cautiously proceeds with potential wind projects

Residents gave town officials the green light Thursday, Nov. 6, at a special meeting, to get more information from companies interested in erecting wind turbines in Jackson. The vote came after extensive discussion and a number of changes to the way the authorization was worded. The special town meeting was prompted by announcements a month earlier that two different companies were interested in putting wind turbines on town-owned land as part of a larger project that would stretch across three communities.

Residents gave town officials the green light Thursday, Nov. 6, at a special meeting, to get more information from companies interested in erecting wind turbines in Jackson.

The vote came after extensive discussion and a number of changes to the way the authorization was worded.

The special town meeting was prompted by announcements a month earlier that two different companies were interested in putting wind turbines on town-owned land as part of a larger project that would stretch across three communities.

More than 60 people filled the Jackson Community Center Thursday evening to vote on the single article. As originally worded, the article was designed to see if townspeople would vote to "authorize the selectmen to accept bids on behalf of the town from wind turbine companies to lease the town property."

After Gary Stacey was chosen as moderator, Selectman John Work announced the traditional article on the annual town meeting warrant that authorizes selectmen to accept bids on behalf of the town was deemed inadequate for the wind turbine matter by the Maine Municipal Association.

"The only thing we're asking for tonight is to be able to receive the two proposals from the wind turbine... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Residents gave town officials the green light Thursday, Nov. 6, at a special meeting, to get more information from companies interested in erecting wind turbines in Jackson.

The vote came after extensive discussion and a number of changes to the way the authorization was worded.

The special town meeting was prompted by announcements a month earlier that two different companies were interested in putting wind turbines on town-owned land as part of a larger project that would stretch across three communities.

More than 60 people filled the Jackson Community Center Thursday evening to vote on the single article. As originally worded, the article was designed to see if townspeople would vote to "authorize the selectmen to accept bids on behalf of the town from wind turbine companies to lease the town property."

After Gary Stacey was chosen as moderator, Selectman John Work announced the traditional article on the annual town meeting warrant that authorizes selectmen to accept bids on behalf of the town was deemed inadequate for the wind turbine matter by the Maine Municipal Association.

"The only thing we're asking for tonight is to be able to receive the two proposals from the wind turbine companies, then take them to legal counsel for evaluation," Work said.

In discussion that followed, however, residents made it clear they thought the issue was not all that simple. From alleged conflicts of interest on the board of selectmen to multiple revisions to the language on the warrant, residents spent about an hour discussing the topic before voting.

One resident said they heard some selectmen had conflicts of interest with regard to the wind project. Work said the matter had been discussed with MMA.

Work said he was a subcontractor on the Beaver Ridge wind project in Freedom, but said he didn't know any of the project's principals. The parent company of Beaver Ridge, Competitive Energy Services, is one of the two companies considering installing wind turbines in Jackson.

Selectman David Greeley addressed residents about his situation. "State statute says that if you have a direct financial interest, you have to recuse yourself," Greeley explained. "I don't, because I'm not a partner."

The audience made clear its displeasure with Greeley's statement, but he continued his explanation. He said common law, however, says it can be considered a conflict of interest if an individual stands to gain anything from a particular project or proposal. He acknowledged he fell into that category.

"I would not expect to be able to vote, because it might void the process," said Greeley, who added he wasn't sure if Work would be able to vote, either.

"So you won't vote?" asked one resident, directing his question at Greeley.

"Correct," Greeley replied.

The language of the article proved to be a sticking point, as well. As originally worded, the article asked if residents would "authorize the selectmen to accept bids on behalf of the town from wind turbine companies to lease the town property."

Through a series of suggestions and amendments, "authorize" was initially changed to "receive," and later expanded to "receive and evaluate."

Resident Jim Shue, who suggested some of the amended language, explained his reasoning for some of the word choices he had offered.

"Have them [the bids] all evaluated and then show people what they say," said Shue. "Once we say you can review them, that's town property, and we can all see it."

"Bids" was changed to "proposals," after some residents expressed concern about the use of the word "bids." David McDaniel, for example, said he favored the word "proposals" because it is "very benign."

When some townspeople expressed concern about how they would be kept informed of developments on the bidding process, language was added to the article that instructed selectmen "to report the findings back within 60 days at a special town meeting."

Sixty days from Nov. 6, 2008 is Monday, Jan. 5, 2009.

Most of those changes to the article were incorporated into one amendment, which passed 41-18 at the end of the meeting.

The modified article then passed as well, by a similar margin. Selectwoman Cindy Ludden said the tally on the second vote was 41-21. Both votes were done by a show of hands and required counts by town officials.

The question was raised about how many bids or proposals were going to be considered. A resident specifically asked if the town would solicit additional bids, or only look to the two companies that have so far shown an interest.

Work said they would likely go with just the two, and said that was because it "wouldn't be feasible" for a third company to develop its own project in between land leased by two other, competing companies.

"It's quite unusual for two companies to be offering bids on the same property," said Greeley, echoing Work's opinion that additional proposals would be unlikely.

"I'm not going to take your word or your advice," said one resident to Greeley, referring to his conflict of interest. "Maybe you're right. Maybe there are no better opportunities, but let's find out."

The question of who would serve as the town's legal counsel was also discussed. One resident asked if it was true the town's regular attorney could not represent Jackson with regard to the proposed wind turbine projects because that attorney was already working with one of the two wind companies. Work said that was true.

When another resident asked about adding language to the article that would specify "counsel hired on behalf of the town," Work got a few laughs from the audience when he replied, "We certainly wouldn't hire one on anyone else's behalf."

A number of attendees also expressed concern about the speed at which the process was moving. One man said the first he had heard about wind turbines in Jackson was a month ago, and that it seemed a very short time to already be looking at receiving bids.

"A month, that's all we've had," said the resident. "That's way too short a time."

Greeley cautioned that time was of the essence because Jackson is not the only spot being eyed for such a development.

"There are a number of other locations in Maine that are interested in these projects," Greeley said, adding the range of hills being looked at in the Jackson area "isn't highly unique in its potential for wind."

There was also talk of a newly formed citizen's subcommittee of the town's planning board, which will focus on wind power issues. Several people affiliated with that subcommittee said the group is trying to learn all that it can about wind power and what options the town has as it moves forward.

Others argued against including the subcommittee. One woman said the group would be "politically energized," a place where "energy runs high and passions run high."

Work said he wanted the public involved, but argued against including the subcommittee in the process. "I personally have no interest in trying to please 500 people on what I say," said Work.

Jenny Tibbetts, a member of the subcommittee, took umbrage at the other woman's characterization of the group. "If that's politically charged, so be it," she said. "I think there's a lot of that in this room right now."

Residents were handed three letters Thursday evening upon entering the meeting room - one from Citizens Energy Corporation (operating as Citizens Wind), one from Competitive Energy Services (operating as Mt. Harris Wind, LLC) and a third from residents David McDaniel and Heather Selin.

The letter from McDaniel and Selin compared two scenarios, one called "Community Divided" and the other called "Community United."

They said the first scenario, which is the way they believe the town is headed, consists of quick decisions made with very little input which results in "large benefits for a handful of individuals, but little benefit or even adverse outcomes for many more individuals."

The "Community United" scenario would consist of greater community involvement, which would allow the town to "negotiate the best deal for all the residents of Jackson."

McDaniel, who described himself as a recent arrival in Jackson, said he had a business background and would like to see the community move forward on the project as a whole, rather than as a handful of individuals.

"We think this process is too premature right now," said McDaniel. He later added, "What I'm against is the process."

Work said nobody was trying to rush anything, and that town officials wanted clearance to communicate with the companies in a legal manner and to go to legal counsel for review. "Trust me, we don't want to hurry into this," said Work.


Source: http://www.villagesoup.com/...

NOV 12 2008
http://www.windaction.org/posts/17856-jackson-cautiously-proceeds-with-potential-wind-projects
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