Call me an idealist, but I believe in the democratic process. I hold the higher values and principles of this state close to my heart and mind. I am sitting in Augusta this very moment awaiting the fate of a specific set of my rights, and, quite frankly, I do not like it one bit.
Because I was not aware of the loss of my rights when it occurred, I want to sound an alarm and educate my fellow Mainers.
The story is simple. In 2008, The Maine Wind Energy Act set a frightening precedent by including a provision for mapping select areas of the Unorganized Territories and designating those UTs as Expedited for Wind Permitting. That designation now gives one industry - and only one industry - special powers to apply for a permit in those Expedited Areas without undergoing the normal rezoning process under LUPC. A developer shall be granted a permit if they meet all the permit requirements, regardless of whether or not local citizens believe the development is suitable in those UTs. This is similar to telling organized towns they no longer can set zoning guidelines.
That LUPC rezoning is the land use guidance that citizens of UTs rely on and respect. We did not give up all rights to zoning input when we chose to live in UTs. We accept this form of guidance, just as organized territories respect their local form of government guidance. Ignoring our accepted and legal forum would be equal to telling organized towns that their local rule does not count.
The LUPC rezoning process the Expedited UTs are now denied was the only forum in which our local zoning thoughts could be voiced and heard. The new law allows for public hearings, but those hearings are only for the permitting process. Remember, we no longer are allowed rezoning hearings; therefore, giving zoning input at a permit hearing is useless. The permit hearing is only a fact finding forum to grant a permit. Unless a citizen has information to prove the applicant is not meeting development criteria, all other information blows on deaf ears.
To add to our injury, many UTs were never designated as Expedited for Wind Development. This means that my neighboring NON-expedited UT still gets to utilize the LUPC rezoning process if a developer wants to submit an application for a permit. (Many of the operating industrial wind facilities in Maine were permitted that way, well before 2008.) Literally, my neighbor across the road could have more rights than I do! In my case, it’s my friends a few miles up the road from me, who, quite understandably, thank their lucky stars that their UT was not a chosen one - not because they decry wind power (they live off the grid) - but because they do not suffer from the knowledge that their rights were systematically and swiftly taken from them, in response to a powerful industry’s wishes.
This is not about good wind vs. bad wind, folks. This is about citizens’ rights. Much research has been done to determine how this UT law change could have happened in the first place. Unfortunately, all the legal “i’s” were dotted and “t’s” were crossed. Barely. Developers and Environmental NGOs had more notice and access to the process than the citizens affected, but that’s another story for another day. The moral to that story is “watch your back at all times”, though.
Six years has passed; a taxpayer funded study recommended developing a process for UTs to be removed from the Expedited Permitting Area; bills to correct this blatant disrespect for average citizens’ rights have been stalled in the Legislature where it has garnered bi-partisan support, all to no avail. The industry's lobbyists are a powerful force.
Finally, LD 616 is making its way through, one educated and committed legislator at a time. I implore you to empower yourself with real knowledge by searching maine.gov and the internet for LD 616 info. Then, I beg you to let your legislators know you will not stand for the continued stripping of citizens’ rights, because when one citizen’s rights are in peril, all of our rights are in equal peril. Ask them to do the right thing and support LD 616.
Today I am seated in the House Gallery watching the proceedings and waiting. If my rights are not returned soon, I may have to stake a tent on the State House lawn until they are.