“I feel like a citizen who is seen to be of less value than my neighbors,” said Karen Bessey Pease, after Maine Senate Democrats Wednesday sidelined an effort to give her and other residents of the state’s most rural areas a say in whether wind towers are built in their communities.
“We just asked to have the same rights to determination of zoning issues in our community as our next-door neighbors have,” said Pease, of Lexington Township. “It’s very unfortunate that the Senate voted the way they did.”
The rural residents had backed a bill, LD 616, that would have established a process to allow their communities and dozens of others in the state’s Unorganized Territory to once again have a say in the rezoning that was required for wind tower construction.
On Wednesday, Democrats in the Senate pushed through an unusual move — sending LD 616 back to the energy committee for further discussion some time in the future, but no date has been set. That means the bill will not be passed in this session of the legislature, which is scheduled to end this week.
The residents said their rights had been taken away with the 2008 passage of the Wind Energy Act, which put many communities of the Unorganized Territory in an “expedited permitting area” for wind power and left them without the same ability as other Maine communities to restrict development in their back yards.
The bill had passed the House on Monday after emotional debate.
Several House Democrats, who had once unreservedly supported the state’s aggressive goals for wind power development, said they were now troubled by the inequality created by the Wind Energy Act.
“I support wind development, but I support justice more,” said Rep. Roberta Beavers, D-South Berwick. “People who choose to live in Unorganized Territory have not forfeited their First Amendment rights.”
On Wednesday, Sen. Seth Goodall of Richmond, the Senate Democratic leader, said “These are very complicated issues. We need to look at these issues comprehensively, look at all the moving parts to strike the right balance between economics, people and the process.”
(Goodall’s district includes the Woolwich headquarters of Reed and Reed, which describes itself as “having built nearly every commercial scale wind project in the State.”)
But Sen. Ed Youngblood, R-Brewer, said there was no need for further deliberation by the energy committee, on which he serves.
“The energy committee spent a considerable amount of time. There were hundreds of people that came and talked to the committee about this issue well into the evening,” said Youngblood. The energy committee also deliberated on the bill in several work sessions.
Turning down the bill, said Youngblood, would reflect poorly on the legislature.
“Do you ever wonder what the people are going to say about the 126th legislature? How we will be looked at by our greater communities?” he asked. “Back in 2008, the 123rd legislature took the rights away from a whole group of people. That’s not fair, that’s not what Maine is about.”
Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resources Council of Maine said after the vote “Clearly this issue’s not going to go away until it’s resolved and we remain pretty committed to working on there being a workable process.”
The Council, a longtime supporter of wind power, had backed a version of the legislation that would have made removing a community from the expedited permitting area more difficult than the version backed by the local citizens.
Patrick Woodcock, the director of Gov. LePage’s energy office, said the Senate’s action was “not a real effort” to address the issue.
“It was another tactic to retain the status quo,” said Woodcock. “We’ve been working with the legislature to try to address what we’ve heard from hundreds of constituents, that they are in an expedited area and they have no means to remove themselves. We worked for a long time on this legislation – it’s a sad day that we will not be able to move it. We need action, we don’t need additional study.”
Rep. Larry Dunphy, R-Embden, the bill’s sponsor, said he was “discouraged” by the vote in the Senate, especially after the House had given the bill strong support.
“I’m incredibly disappointed that our legislature can be bought,” said Dunphy. “It’s discouraging that we don’t have more integrity than that.”
Pease was also discouraged.
“This was a straight citizen’s rights bill,” said Pease, who came to watch the Senate debate over the bill with her daughter – and left the legislative chamber in tears after the vote.
The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, non-profit news service based in Hallowell. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web: pinetreewatchdog.org. Staff reporter Nell Gluckman contributed to this story.