A town’s comprehensive plan, I am learning, is an incredibly important document. It consists of a detailed inventory of the town’s assets, unique features, wildlife habitat, historical sites, and the like, as well as an extensive sampling of the attitudes and values of the people who live there. Basically, it outlines what the municipality consists of and how the residents wish to make use of what they have.
The comprehensive plan gives the leadership of the town clear, long-term goals and direction to follow. It is the will of the people categorized and organized in a way that anyone can easily understand. Following the comprehensive plan allows town selectmen to move forward with confidence, knowing that by following the guidelines set forth by the people, they will avoid conflict and be supported in their efforts.
The comprehensive plan for Orland was published in December 1998. It was scheduled to be reworked every five years, but it hasn’t been touched since the original publication. It should have been updated three times by now.
Given this situation, our selectmen could have followed the outdated plan while getting the much needed update started. Instead, they decided to move Orland in a new direction by promoting industrial wind development.
In the “Land Use” section of the Orland plan, 89 percent of residents categorize our rural way of life as “important” or “very important.” The plan’s land use goal says that new development should “be compatible with [Orland’s] rural attributes such as open ridgelines and scenic views.”
Yet our selectmen have supported a plan for 500-foot industrial wind turbines. When considering natural resources, 71 percent of Orland residents “favored measures to protect open spaces and wildlife habitat,” according to the comprehensive plan. “Sixty-two percent supported the protection of scenic views.”
Under “Goals and Objectives,” our comprehensive plan promotes “undertaking measures to protect Orland’s scenic resources.” Yet our selectmen push for this industrial wind facility even though the proposed site is less than a mile from our flagship scenic resource, the Great Pond Mountain Wildlands.
The idea of industrial wind development has never had widespread support in Orland. Our first straw vote on wind was dead even. Several years later, little has changed. A recent vote for a moratorium on wind development failed by five votes. The town is divided, and at the open meetings that were held to discuss the issue, tempers were flaring.
Thankfully, the planning board has unanimously supported a full review and revision of the wind development ordinance, but there’s no moratorium in place to give them time to do the work. A group of concerned citizens gathered signatures requesting another vote for a moratorium in order to give them the time they need to finish the review.
At their meeting on Feb. 19, our selectmen again supported industrial wind development by deciding to ignore the petition. When the selectmen were asked to consider the petition given the fact that the planning board was initiating a review, Chairman Ed Rankin said, “We’re all done considering. We voted on it, and it’s done. We’ve done all the legal obligations we need to do.”
So here we are, a town divided, petitions ignored, selectmen pushing on with their plans for industrial development in our rural scenic areas. What got us here is poor leadership. On a board with combined terms of service measured in decades, not one of our selectmen has bothered to familiarize themselves with the assets of the town or the will of the people as outlined in the comprehensive plan. No wonder we are in such a mess.
Shawn Mercer of North Orland is a member of Friends of Dodge Hill.