FARMINGTON — The town planning board approved Monday night the University of Maine at Farmington’s bid to build a biomass-fueled central energy plant on Quebec Street on the condition that the university enclose the structure’s 50-foot smokestack so as not to create an eyesore.

Board chairman Clayton King said the reason he wanted the smokestack enclosed was based on the concerns of residents who showed up at meetings and called him in the weeks prior to the vote, saying they thought the smokestack wouldn’t fit with the neighborhood.

The planning board’s 6 to 1 vote, with one member abstaining, gives municipal approval to UMF’s $11 million heat conversion project centered around a 5,885-square-foot biomass plant. The plant will sit on the site of a university parking lot near the intersection of Perkins and Quebec streets. Project officials previously said the biomass fuel plant is expected to replace 390,000 gallons of heating oil now used to heat the buildings through individual systems and is projected to reduce the university’s carbon emissions by 3,000 tons a year.

The board initially voted on whether to approve the heating plant with the smokestack on the outside of the project, but the motion was defeated 6 to 2.

Mark Power, team leader from Trane Inc., which is contracted to design and build the project, said after the vote changing the design of the project to fit the smokestack in the structure will increase the project’s costs, but said it was too early to know what that increase might be.

Approval for the project came after the planning board and project officials gathered downtown to watch a tractor-trailer test the turn from Perham Street to Quebec Street. During peak heating season, the biomass boiler would need up to 11 tractor-trailer trips a week to deliver wood chips to the boiler system.

After a two-hour discussion by the planning board March 9, the board decided to test the route to decide if the truck could make the turn onto the side street. The tractor-trailer driver reported to the board that he could not make the turn from Middle Street to Quebec — an alternative route considered by the board — but he managed the turn from Perham to the board’s approval.

“To me, the truck rolled into there pretty easy,” said planning board member Craig Jordan in a meeting after the site visit.

The board in its motion called for UMF to have the wood chips delivered between 9 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, though alternate dates could be arranged in certain circumstances such as weather interference.

The motion also called for tractor-trailers to follow a route to the university down Front Street, then right onto Broadway, continuing on to Perham Street and then right onto Quebec Street.

Planning board member Lloyd Smith said he still had “a major concern” about the number of deliveries during peak season.

“But I will support the motion, I guess,” he said.

The vote by the Farmington Planning Board creates a rare division between the town and the Farmington Village Corporation, which also has a planning board that oversees Quebec Street.

The planning board for the village corporation — a quasi-governmental agency that over the decades has been reduced to a planning board and water district — has voted down the boiler project as a nonconforming structure for the residential zone.

The village corporation first brought zoning to Farmington in 1955, but since then the municipality of Farmington has adopted zoning and a planning board. The two entities have voiced different opinions over who has jurisdiction over the boiler project.

The village corporation told UMF that they can appeal the decision to the corporation’s appeals board to get a variance allowing the project. The town’s attorney advised the town that it has higher jurisdiction in the matter and its decision is the authoritative one of the two.

Town Manager Richard Davis said the two entities have never had a controversy before over planning that has resulted in the courts sorting out the matter. On Monday night, he told the board and project officials that the difference in rulings between the two groups could possibly end up in court, but Monday’s vote should not be made based on what the village corporation voted.

“If it ends up with a court challenge … then you let the court sort it out,” said Davis.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

[email protected]


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