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Residential windmills, Rines Forest harvesting get OK in Cumberland

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Residential windmills, Rines Forest harvesting get OK in Cumberland

CUMBERLAND — A small wind energy ordinance and the first phase of harvesting at Rines Forest received unanimous approval Monday night from the Town Council.

The wind energy ordinance allows small-scale residential windmills with minimal application fees and processes. Large-scale windmills and those too large for their surroundings are prohibited, since the ordinance is meant to minimize possible impacts on neighbors.

Height is limited to 150 feet, and total power restricted to 10 kilowatts. A setback to the property line of 150 percent the structure's height is required. The sound produced by the windmill can be no more than 60 decibels at the property line, which Town Manager Bill Shane compared to the level of normal conversation.

No Planning Board review is required for windmills meeting those specifications; instead, they will be reviewed by Building Inspector Bill Longley.

There is no restriction on tower type.

Residents interested in learning more can contact Finance Director Alex Kimball, who worked with the town's Cool Cities Committee in reviewing the ordinance, at 829-2205 or akimball@cumberlandmaine.com.

While he supported other aspects of the ordinance, resident Ted Chadbourne questioned its limit on kilowatt capacity. "If you can have a quiet turbine, as measured by your provision, at the property line, I would hope that you wouldn't fight efficiency by limiting that design to a specified number of kilowatts," he said. "These things are getting more and more efficient."

He suggested that windmills be regulated instead by height and the amount of noise they make.

"To be perfectly honest, I hope that's the first thing we have to change, because that will mean that these windmills have gotten more efficient and that (kilowatt capacity) becomes a limit that becomes too low eventually," Kimball said. "Right now, as the windmills are designed ... 10 kilowatts struck us as a good tipping point between residential and what we'd really classify as commercial."

Future technology may cause that limit to be too low, Kimball acknowledged, but not at this time.

Shane said "it would not take a lot of time to upgrade that to the next level." When a resident is issued a permit to erect a windmill, neighbors within a 300-foot radius will be notified in case they wish to appeal the installation, he explained.

Rines Forest

Following a workshop and a regular-session public hearing on the matter, the Town Council voted to authorize Shane to execute contracts necessary for the first phase of harvesting at Rines Forest. The harvesting will take place during about three weeks in January and February 2010, in areas that will be partially cut.

Jay Braunscheidel of Integrated Forest Management, which is doing the forestry work for the town, said about 40 percent of the forest will see some kind of treatment.

Three areas of the forest have been designated as growth areas and will not be harvested. Two others will see harvesting of between 30 and 40 percent, and one between 20 and 30 percent. A final section of the forest will see harvesting of 25 percent in 2011.

"You want to try to keep a forest that has a mixture of growth in different areas," Shane said. "You don't want all the trees to be the same age ... so you're trying to build a diverse forest ... that has new as well as old growth mixed together."

One key goal of the harvesting is the eradication of invasive plant species such as buckthorn.

"It doesn't go away, because even though we may do it on our property, it's on neighboring properties as well, and it'll creep back over," Shane said. "You can't eliminate it, but you can try to get it under control so you can keep it from choking the forest."

This will be the first harvest in the nearly seven years the town has owned the 214-acre forest, Shane said.

The harvesting should pay for itself. Selling the lumber can fund the cutting and invasive species eradication, Shane said, and remaining revenue will be used to build a reserve account to fund monitoring and preservation of the forest.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.