LINCOLN, Maine — An Upper Pond resident says planning board chairman Peter Phinney should recuse himself from deliberations over a proposed $120 million wind farm because Phinney works for a landowner who likely stands to benefit from the project.
Phinney said Monday he has no conflict of interest and will vote on the matter.
A real estate agent, Phinney is an employee of, and handles some land transactions for, H.C. Haynes Inc. of Winn, which is a manufacturer of wood chips and pulpwood, a logging contractor and a landowner that owns many acres around Upper and Long ponds, among other places, he and company officials said.
Herbert Haynes Jr. of Lakeville Shores Inc. in Winn, a subsidiary of H.C. Haynes, and David Susen of Lincoln are among landowners who own land on which the development slated for Rollins Mountain would be built if it receives local and state approval.
That’s why Rainer Egle, 45, of Russikon, Switzerland, who owns a camp and about 6 acres on Upper Pond, believes that Phinney should recuse himself from any deliberations on wind farm permits when wind farm proponent First Wind of Massachusetts submits an application to the board. First Wind hopes to apply by January.
“I would think he should have to recuse himself in every deal where he represents Haynes as well as the town,” Egle said Monday. “Could you request from a person who is selling this land for Haynes to make an unbiased decision? I think it would be extremely unfair and hard to this person to make an unbiased decision.
“How can he make a good and fair judgment for the town,” Egle added, “if he is serving two kings at the same time?”
Phinney disagreed. He said he reviewed his position with an attorney, whom he declined to name, and was told that he does not violate any ethics standards.
“I don’t have a conflict of interest as defined by the laws of the state of Maine,” Phinney said Monday.
Maine statutes generally hold that conflicts of interest do not exist unless there is a direct and immediately beneficial relationship between a public official and another entity that is subject to a favorable legislative action. He might be an employee, but that direct relationship does not exist, Phinney said.
Egle also believes that Phinney should recuse himself to avoid an appearance of impropriety.
Egle first heard of Phinney’s relationship with Haynes when he went to buy his lakefront cabin land, which he had leased since 1999, on Upper Pond in 2007. A Haynes representative told him that Phinney was their exclusive contact for all sales of land around Upper Pond, and Egle worked with Phinney on the deal, he said.
Egle does not describe himself as an opponent of wind power or alternative energy, but expresses considerable reservations about First Wind’s project and its suitability for Rollins Mountain, which is visible from his camp location. A software developer and computer consultant, Egle and his wife, Gaby, a flight attendant, live at their camp about two months a year.
“There is no personal revenge here to either H.C. Haynes or Pete Finney or people at the town. I just think this thing is way too big to handle on a very fast track,” Egle said. “Such a development would turn this from a recreational, beautiful area to an industrial town. This is a strategic decision and all the people of Lincoln have to think about this and agree to it.”
Egle said he believes that residents and town officials don’t know enough yet about wind farms to judge them fairly. Members of a group to which the Egles belong, the Friends of Lincoln Lakes, will go before the planning board tonight to seek a moratorium on wind farms in Lincoln.
The group is suspicious of the company given that it is being investigated by the New York State Attorney General’s Office for possible improper relationships with elected officials in that state. The company has said that it has cooperated fully with the Attorney General’s Office.
Group members were due to speak to the Town Council on Monday.
Phinney, who describes himself as somewhat skeptical of wind farms, has been working with other planning board members on an ordinance regarding wind farms, but the effort hasn’t gone far, he said. He said he couldn’t see doing a moratorium for longer than a year.
“I would suggest that it would be a short one, not a whole year,” Phinney said. “You have to have a reason to do it.”
Ignorance, he said, is no excuse to delay development for a year or longer.