Monday, July 31, 2006

Wind farm site threatens wilderness

Copyright © 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

On Aug. 2-4, Maine's Land Use Regulation Commission will hold a public hearing on whether Maine Mountain Power should be allowed to construct a wind farm within a "mountain area protection" zone in the western high mountains region between Rangeley and Carrabassett.

The project would involve the construction of over 8 miles of very wide, high-standard roads and 30 410-foot-tall wind turbines at elevations up to 4,000 feet on the Redington Pond Range and Black Nubble Mountain.

We are all aware of the consequences of burning fossil fuels - global warming, acid deposition and the national security implications of our reliance on fossil fuels. America and Maine need a host of renewable energy technologies, including wind power, to address these problems.

However, we should not blindly support wind or any other technology without weighing all the impacts.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet: Whenever we produce electricity, there is an impact. The impact may be pushing pollutants into the air or blocking fish passage at a hydroelectric station, or building roads and power lines on remote and fragile mountaintops to gain access to a windy ridge.

The proposed development would be located in the heart of one of Maine's most spectacular mountain regions, within close proximity to over half of the 4,000-foot peaks in the state - some of Maine's most iconic summits, including Saddleback, Abraham, Spaulding, Sugarloaf, Crocker and Bigelow.

Along with Baxter State Park, the region contains the greatest collection of wild, remote and roadless habitats in the state.

The developer has proposed constructing the 40-story-tall wind turbines barely a mile from, and in full view of, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, a protected greenway that, like Acadia and Yosemite, is part of the National Park System.

This section of the trail is widely regarded as one of the jewels of the trail, where a hiker can escape to the high mountains and walk above the treeline through a remote and undeveloped landscape. Unfortunately, the project would not just disrupt the view from one peak - it would affect every major summit and vista along 50 miles of the trail - about seven days of hiking.

However, our concerns are not just aesthetic. The project would clear a 90-foot-wide road corridor through one of Maine's most pristine rare subalpine forest communities.

It would disrupt exemplary habitat for two of the state's rarest and most threatened animals - the northern bog lemming and Bicknell's thrush. It would bisect a high-elevation roadless corridor extending for 17 miles from Route 4 to Route 27.

An independent road engineer estimated that 26 tons of dynamite would be needed to blast the roads and turbine foundations into the steep slopes and thin soils at high elevations, requiring 4,600 dump truck loads to remove it. This kind of disruption will lead to erosion on a massive scale.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy believes there is a place for wind power in the mountains of Maine and throughout the Northeast. We have looked at six wind farm proposals within the Appalachian Trail's viewshed, and this is the only one we are opposing.

The other five projects will all be seen from the trail, but they are located on ridge lines that already have development (such as ski areas or radio towers), or in landscapes where other human activity (such as towns, highways and farmland) is evident.

The question is not whether to build wind farms, but where to build them. For the most part developers have done a good job in siting projects in areas where the environmental and scenic impacts are not of great concern. (The Mars Hill project is a good example.)

The Maine Mountain Power proposal is an extreme exception to this rule. Mainers should oppose this project and ask their public officials to protect one of the state's most spectacular wild landscapes.

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