Friday, August 04, 2006

Contrary opinions confuse issues at Sugarloaf wind hearing

Blethen News

Staff writer

Copyright © 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

August 4, 2006

CARRABASSETT VALLEY -- Hours into the second day of hearings on the proposed Redington Wind Farm, commissioner Bart Harvey noted the wide differences between information provided by different sides.

"One wonders when we read this whether we are looking at the same place," said Harvey after Steven Pelletier, of Woodlot Alternatives, Inc provided a summary of his analysis related to environmental impacts.

The comment by Harvey, chairman of the Land Use Regulation Commission, underscored the contentious nature of the project and the vastly different perspectives among those testifying Thursday about how the project would change the landscape and habitat on two western Maine mountains.

Maine Mountain Power LLC has proposed placing 30 turbines on Redington Pond Range and Black Nubble Mountain in Redington and Wyman Township in Franklin County.

Pelletier, a certified wildlife biologist and wetlands scientist who testified on behalf of Maine Mountain Power, told commissioners that the ridge lines were not pristine unfragmented habitat and that there would not be any undue adverse impact on the area because of the project.

Maine Audubon, however, has provided written testimony that the project might have a "catastrophic and irreversible impact" on the northern bog lemming, which is listed as threatened in Maine.

The environmental group also testified that the project area provides key habitat to seven animals listed in Maine as endangered, threatened or of special concern.

About 50 people, many wearing stickers or badges opposing or supporting the project, attended the hearings Thursday during time set aside for testimony from officials from Maine Mountain Power and groups actively involved in the application process.

Wednesday night, when the public was invited to testify, about 300 people filled the large room in Sugarloaf/ USA's base lodge. Between 50 and 60 put their names on a list of those wishing to make a statement.

That turnout underscores the interest in the project and in wind power in general, which can offer a clean, stable source of electricity but is only economically viable in sites with adequate wind, often on mountain tops and coastal areas.

Catherine M. Carroll, director of the Land Use Regulatory Commission, said the controversial nature of the project will make the job of the commission and its staff that much more difficult.

The LURC oversees land use issues for the unorganized territory, and is charged with deciding whether to rezone about 1,000 acres on the two mountains so the wind farm can be constructed.

Carroll said it will take weeks and weeks for staff to analyze the record of the hearings, including both written and spoken testimony.

"This is a highly contentious project and we are sensitive to that," said Carroll in a break between testimony Thursday afternoon.

She said she hopes the staff will have a recommendation ready for the commission by late fall.

Whatever the final decision, she said, it is likely to be appealed in court.

Hearings at Sugarloaf are scheduled to begin again 8:30 Friday morning and end at 5 p.m. The hearing record will remain open for written statements for at least 10 days, and possibly longer.

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