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Parkman approves community benefits agreement with wind company

By Bill Pearson
Staff Writer

    PARKMAN — Larry Glidden explained the vote facing his fellow Parkman residents pretty clearly during a Feb. 2 special town meeting. The town could either enter into a 20-year community benefit agreement with Blue Sky West, LLC and receive $20,000 per year or reject the agreement and risk the project proceeding and receive nothing.

    “It’s pretty much a ‘no-brainer’,” Glidden said. “A no vote won’t prevent the project from happening so all we’d be doing was saying ‘no’ to $400,000 if the project goes through.”

    Parkman residents heeded Glidden’s advice and approved the CBA with Blue Sky, LLC by a 43-9 vote. Blue Sky is an affiliate of First Wind which is a New England alternative energy provider which is looking to construct a power transmission corridor along the town lines of Abbot and Parkman. Blue Sky needs the corridor to transmit power from its Bingham project which has 62 turbines in the town of Bingham and the unorganized townships of Mayfield and Kingsbury plantations in Somerset County to the Central Maine Power substation in Parkman.

    Blue Sky is looking to sell the power generated from its Bingham project to consumers who reside mostly in southern New England. The company plans to construct the corridor adjacent to the town border running along the Crow Hill Road in Parkman and the Gael’s Road in Abbot.

    First Wind Director of New England Development David Fowler explained that under the state’s Renewable Resources Act that his firm was required to enter into a tangible benefits agreement with the communities where a turbine is located. The firm is paying three Somerset County communities $4,000 annually per turbine.

    However, the firm is not required to enter into a financial relationship with other municipalities that are involved with project. Fowler explained that his firm is only required to seek permits from the town and state.

    “We already have agreements with three other communities and the town of Moscow. We do have the option to voluntarily enter into a financial agreement with Parkman,” Fowler said, “We feel any town that is associated with the project should be compensated and that’s why we are here today.”

    Blue Sky is still negotiating with local landowners for a 66-foot easement to place the generator lead lines from the Abbot border to the CMP substation in Parkman. He said once negotiations with all the landowners were completed then the route would be finalized.

    Fowler assured residents that payments to the town would continue as long as the firm continued to generate power from the Bingham project.

    “As long as it produces power, the town will continue to receive revenue. The only way payments would stop was if the project is decommissioned,” Fowler said.

    Residents questioned Fowler for about an hour on how the project would affect the town. Among the voters’ concerns were if the project was connected with the proposed East-West Highway and about the potential environmental impact.

    Fowler stated the proposal was strictly about the need to transmit power generated by the Somerset County turbines to the CMP substation. He indicated that the easement was likely too small to interest anyone involved with East-West Highway proposal.

    “I don’t think right of way we’re looking for would meet their needs,” Fowler said. “Even if we sold our interest, they’d still have to go through all of the permitting process on their own. So the town would have a say if that ever happened.”

    The annual payments aren’t the only economic benefit the town would receive if the proposed corridor materializes. The town would also see an increase in property values if the project comes to fruition. Moderator Liz Morin, who is also the president of Hamlin Associates, estimated the increased valuation to property along the proposed route and to the CMP substation would bring in more revenue to the town, but she wasn’t exactly sure how much.

    “Let take off my moderator hat and put on my tax assessor’s hat,” Morin said. “It’s hard to say, but it looks like it would increase property values about a half a mil.”

    Fowler advised the residents that the only method available to them to stop the project would be to enact a moratorium. Planning Board member Christian McGinn indicated following the meeting the committee would meet on Feb. 7. He expects the board would discuss whether the town should enact a moratorium to provide more time to propose an ordinance dealing with the corridor.   

    Blue Sky also plans on entering a CBA with the town of Abbot. An informational meeting was scheduled yesterday in the Abbot municipal building to discuss First Wind’s proposal to place electricity poles along the Gael’s Road. 

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