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In Settlement with AG, Maine Anti-Wind Group Must Reform

AUGUSTA, Maine - A citizen's group that has opposed wind power development in Maine's western mountains must overhaul its board of directors and implement other reforms, as part of a settlement with Maine Attorney General Janet Mills.
Mills launched an investigation of Friends of Maine's Mountains, over the group's handling of a legal dispute with developer Saddleback Ridge Wind. Friends of Maine's Mountains says it will abide by the the attorney general's demands so it can continue operating.

In late 2010, Saddleback Ridge Wind had proposed building a 12-turbine development in the mountains near Carthege, Maine. Friends of Maine's Mountains opposed the project. So did nearby landowners, including Rand Stowell, the group's president and a member of its five-person board of directors.

Another board member, Chris O'Neil, served as a consultant to the organization, conducting initial negotiations with the Saddleback group, on behalf of FMM and Stowell. "This went back and forth for quite some time," O'Neil says.

As part of an initial deal, FMM and Stowell agreed to drop a lawsuit against Saddleback in exchange for a cash payment. But a little over a year ago, the FMM board voted to abandon the agreement. Then, the executive committee, comprised of Stowell and O'Neil, moved to overhaul the board's make up. Two members were removed and a third was replaced, after a new board member, hand-picked by Stowell and O'Neil, was brought on.

The reconstituted Friends of Maine Mountains then moved to approve a settlement with Saddleback that benefited O'Neil and Stowell financially. At that point, O'Neil says one of FMM's enemies filed a conflict of interest complaint with the attorney general's office.

"The attorney general is compelled to look into the complaint. She did," O'Neil says. "We do note that the settlement says that they don't have allegations or charges, but opinions that things could be done better. We don't disagree with those opinions entirely."

As part of its settlement with the AG, FMM has four months to recruit and elect four new board members. O'Neil must resign as a member of the board. Stowell can remain on the board, but can't serve as an officer at FMM for the next two years. The group must agree to revise its by-laws to eliminate the executive committee of the board. FMM must also adopt a conflict of interest policy governing financial transactions and submit it to the attorney general for review and approval.

"When you're dealing with the attorney general of the State of Maine, one is not well advised to pick a fight," O'Neil says. "We said, 'Yes, agree. Let's move forward. We don't need you breathing down our necks.' "

Rand Stowell did not return a call for comment by airtime.