by Joel Elliott, staff writer
WINSLOW — Plans to breach the Fort Halifax Dam inched forward this week when the Winslow Planning Board deemed the owner’s proposal to be complete.
The town has opposed breaching the dam since the matter came up five years ago, and the owner’s application has been stalled or shot down numerous times.
The series of votes taken Thursday in no way indicated that the board had approved the proposal from FPL Energy, according to the town’s attorney, William Lee of O’Donnell, Lee, McCowan & Phillips.
“Finding that the application is complete is not a statement that the information in any given category is sufficient,” Lee said, something he would repeat many times throughout more than two hours of deliberation.
Lee said applications are considered “complete” if information has been entered into every applicable category, and that the planning board was not there to determine the actual merits of the information.
Yet, time and again, planning board members, most frequently Elery Keene, continued to pick through the specifics of the application, resulting in no motion being made on the single item before the board until 52 minutes of meeting time had passed.
Keene protested repeatedly that he did not consider the application to be complete, saying that the company failed to provide various materials requested by the board, one of which was a soil erosion control plan. At that point, FPL Energy’s counsel, Matthew Manahan of Pierce Atwood, spoke up.
“We did submit a soil erosion control plan,” he said. “You have it.”>/p>
Keene denied this, but Winslow’s attorney responded sharply.
“We can’t sit here and say we don’t have the plan,” Lee told Keene. “We do have it — I’ve seen it. It’s sitting right in front of us.”>/p>
But Keene continued, unabated, saying the board also required a map of the boat landing. When Manahan guided him to one map in the packet he had provided, Keene said it wasn’t large enough.
Manahan showed him a different map.
Keene said it wasn’t detailed enough.
Planning board deliberations on the dam breaching issue over the past 6 to 8 months have cost the town $3,100 in attorney’s fees, according to the estimate of Town Manager Michael Heavener. Lee does not typically attend planning board meetings, Heavener said, but this issue alone has required him to log about 20 hours at an hourly rate of about $155 since mid-summer.
Lee estimated that he had logged 14 hours of planning board meeting time.
Mary Ellen Fletcher, wife of planning board member Ken Fletcher, an owner of property on the dam impoundment who has recused himself from the issue, said that drawing down the impoundment would impact the habitat of bald eagles that had built a nest in the area.
Manahan, as he has said several times in the past, replied that a representative of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has determined that breaching the dam may actually improve the habitat of bald eagles.
Ken Fletcher in a later e-mail to the Morning Sentinel cited at least two instances in which he said FPL had failed to submit necessary information.
“It is clear that (the) planning board is being pressured by FPLE to rush to judgment while supplying incomplete and/or not totally accurate information,” he wrote.
F. Allen Wiley, spokesman for FPL Energy, said later that he had wished for a speedier conclusion to the matter, but stopped short of characterizing the board’s deliberations as a filibuster.
“Clearly, we have been frustrated by the length of time that it’s taken to determine the completeness issue of our application,” Wiley said. “But we’re pleased that the planning board has moved on from that process so they can now evaluate the specific proposals on their merits.”>/p>