Thursday, August 03, 2006

Public debates wind project

Blethen News
Alan Crowell
August 3, 2006

CARRABASSETT VALLEY -- Environmental values clashed loudly Wednesday night on the first of three days of hearings on a proposed 30-turbine wind-power project on two western Maine mountains.

Maine Mountain Power LLC has proposed erecting 30 turbines, each 41 stories high, over Redington Pond Range and Black Nubble Mountain in Redington and Wyman Township in Franklin County.

The hearings are an opportunity for the public to weigh in -- from residents who would be able to see the project from their back deck to environmentalist advocating for threatened species.

Opposed by environmental groups who say the Redington site is simply too fragile and special, the project is also seen as potentially precedent-setting in a state that has a large potential for wind power.

Supporting the project are groups as disparate as the Maine Lung Association and the Maine Council of Churches.

Wednesday night, more than 300 people filled a large room in Sugarloaf USA's base lodge where the Land Use Regulation Commission opened the hearing at 6 p.m.

The commission, which overseas land use issues in the unorganized territory, is charged with deciding whether to rezone about 1,000 acres on the two mountains for use a wind farm.

The project would produce enough power to run about 40,000 homes and would provide a stable source of competitively priced power for decades, according to the developer.

Environmental advocacy groups, however, say that it would also push roads and transmission lines into pristine subalpine habitat that is home to several rare or threatened species and site huge, lighted wind towers within about a mile of the Appalachian Trail.

Dozens of people signed up to speak Wednesday night, threatening to run over the four hours allotted.

Sen. Scott Cowger, D-Hallowell and chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, told the commission that he believes the proposed development is a watershed event.

Cowger noted that wind power projects have to be sited where the wind is, which in Maine is mostly along the coast and on mountaintops.

"That is just a choice that we have to make," Cowger said. "We are facing an irreversible and drastic change in our climate."

Sen. Ethan Strimling, D-Portland, also spoke out in favor of the project.

Strimling told the commission that he thought it was ironic that the hearing was taking place on what might be the hottest day of perhaps the hottest year on record during what might be the hottest decade on record.

"Once the project goes up, I think people will start to realize that this is OK. In fact this is better than OK, it is necessary."

Not everyone at the hearing, however, felt that the tower was either necessary or OK.

Neil Iverson of Eustis said he regularly talks to tourists who visit the area from states such as Massachusetts and New Jersey.

"They all make the same point -- how lucky we are here to have unspoiled, undeveloped mountains," he said.

If the huge industrial turbines are erected on the mountains, they will spoil that resource for generations, he said.

Scheduled for later today and Friday are presentations by Maine Mountain Power as well as many environmental groups who oppose the project largely because of possible impacts to rare habitat and species on Redington Pond Ridge.

Alan Crowell -- 474-9534, Ext. 342

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