Athens resident Mickey Courtemanche, in white, and others vote on an item Saturday during the annual town meeting at the Town Office. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

ATHENS — About 40 people turned out for Saturday’s annual town meeting where they turned down a request to adopt a solar energy facility ordinance and approved a temporary moratorium for wireless transmission facilities in town.

The town also reelected Saturday, by a show of hands, Earland Lake and Erald Corson to the town’s budget committee.

Voters gathered at the Town Office and moved through the 30-article warrant in an hour and 10 minutes.

During Friday’s elections, Town Treasurer Jean Bussell and First Selectperson Hilary Lister were reelected. Victoria Avery also returned to the Athens Municipal School board of directors.

At the town meeting, voters approved a $743,619 budget that did not include the school or county budgets, so it is not yet known if the town’s tax rate of $21.75 per $1,000 worth of valuation will increase.

Last year, the town approved a $707,954 budget. Bussell said there are no major new items in the budget and small increases are reflected in needs such as funding for roads and the recreation program.


Much of the discussion Saturday focused on the proposed solar ordinance and moratorium on transmission facilities.

Residents aired concerns about more people wanting to install large solar systems on farmland and entities requesting to install wireless towers that could potentially cause illnesses and other issues if restrictions aren’t in place.

First Selectperson Hilary Lister explains a warrant article Saturday during the annual town meeting at the Town Office in Athens. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

Lister told residents that they could reject the proposed solar ordinance, which would give town officials more time to work on it and in the meantime, the town’s current moratorium on solar developments would stand until another vote is taken in about two months.

She said the town cannot ban solar farms, but it can regulate them and require that, if ownership is transferred, the agreement with the town carries over to the new owner. This would make sure that the facilities are not abandoned and the town has money to clean it up and restore the land.

Town officials drew up a proposed ordinance based on information received from the Maine Municipal Association and towns including Embden, Starks, Mercer, Glenburn and Morrill, according to Lister.

The proposal requires licenses from the town to develop solar facilities larger than 10,000 square feet, mandates that they be set back at least 250 feet from property lines or roads, at least 500 feet from ponds, lakes or streams and 1,000 feet from residences.


The size of solar arrays would be limited to no more than 300,000 square feet, or about 6.8 acres. The ordinance would require applicants to have liability insurance, according to Lister.

“It would specify that they can’t remove top soil that’s agricultural land,” she said.

There are two solar arrays in town and two more entities have asked for permits to locate there, officials said.

Lister said if voters reject the ordinance, the town’s moratorium on solar facilities would remain in place until May. As long as that is in place, no large-scale systems can be developed. Then the town could vote on an updated ordinance at a special meeting.

Resident Mickey Courtemanche reiterated that solar farms cannot be prohibited in town.

“All you can actually do is restrict the size of the fields of those things that they can put in,” he said.


Bruce Clavette, left, moderators Saturday during the annual Athens town meeting held at the Town Office. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

Residents overwhelmingly voted to reject the proposed ordinance.

On the proposed moratorium for wireless transmission facilities, Lister said most surrounding communities have restrictions for where they can be located, as towns could end up with multiple towers on a hillside.

“This moratorium would just put a hold on any of those facilities being constructed in town until we can get an ordinance similar to the solar ordinance,” she said.

Residents discussed possible electrical and fire safety concerns around such towers, as those with higher frequencies and other features put an extra strain on the electrical system. Courtemanche said people with pacemakers also can be at risk because the pacemakers can go out of whack if they are near the towers.

“I think there needs to be a lot of thought and research on this,” he said.

Lister and Third Selectman Guy Anton recommended the town require testing of such installations.

Residents praised town officials for working hard to research the impacts of solar farms and wireless transmission facilities.

“You guys have done a good job investigating,” said Donna Courtemanche, wife of Mickey Courtemanche. “Thank you.”

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