A group of economists, financial advisers, hedge fund managers and bankers come from around the world each year to participate in “Camp Kotok,” a quiet and exclusive summit at Leen’s Lodge in Grand Lake Stream, a remote plantation in Washington County.
The annual weekend retreat is a typically a low-key, relaxing and off-the-record respite for industry insiders, but this year they had a special guest: Governor Paul LePage.
Representatives of the Partnership for the Preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed, which is a local group organized to fight First Wind, and the Grand Lake Stream Guides Association, as well as local lodge owners, recognized the governor for his stance against industrial grid-scale wind power. They also asked for LePage’s help in protecting their businesses from economic harm that would result if a proposed wind project is allowed to go forward.
Although its first proposal was struck down, First Wind is now trying to build 27 wind turbines in Carroll Plantation and Kossuth Township. The massive turbines would dominate the skyline above Grand Lake Stream and result in destruction of the pristine natural habitat and a loss of outdoor tourism, according to the guides and lodge owners.
On Friday, August 3, the first night of the Camp Kotok, the group presented LePage with a paddle in honor of his position on wind power. “This is no store-bought canoe paddle,” said Kevin Gurrell, director of the Partnership for the Preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed. “Dale Tobey personally felled the tree that was used to make this paddle, and he hand finished it to its present form just for this occasion.”
Tobey is a second-generation guide who carries out the tradition of creating hand-crafted Grand Laker canoes, paddles and other items during the winter months.
LePage didn’t disappoint the crowd, calling wind turbines an expensive “boutique energy source.”
The governor said he is trying to reduce energy costs for Maine, preferring to use existing sources that are much less expensive, such as natural gas and hydro power. LePage pointed out that Maine already has proven, less-expensive sources of renewable energy. “Like hydro, hydro and more hydro,” he said.
Those attending Camp Kotok have gathered at Leen’s Lodge on the pristine shores of West Grand Lake every year for two decades, allowing leaders in economics and financial markets to speak candidly and privately, debate policy and mull over the most pressing economic issues. They revere the quiet, secluded and unspoiled nature of West Grand Lake, which offers of excellent fishing and other traditional outdoor activities.
The retreat is named for David Kotok, chairman and chief information officer of Cumberland Advisors in Sarasota, Fla., who has been coming to enjoy the remote beauty of Grand Lake Stream for 20 years. Back then, Kotok invited a few fellow economists to join him, and the event has since blossomed into a gathering of about 50.
Scott Moody, CEO of The Maine Heritage Policy Center, who watched the presentation to LePage, has been a regular attendee at the retreat. Camp Kotok is estimated to attract about $200,000 in lodging, food and guide fees to the area.
Inviting the governor to dinner was a first for Camp Kotok. Kevin Gurrell, director of the Partnership for the Preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed, explained why the group wanted the governor to attend.
The village of Grand Lake Stream anchors the Down East Lakes Watershed. The watershed encompasses 134,000 acres and is comparable in size and importance to Moosehead Lake and to the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Gurall said. “Except for small pockets of residential development, this watershed fully retains is wilderness character and scenic magnificence,” he said. “We are extremely pleased to have you visit one of Maine’s best-kept secrets today,” he told the governor.
The characteristics of the watershed were severely threatened three years ago when First Wind LLC of Boston erected three meteorological towers on Bowers Mountain and the abutting long ridgeline that overshadows the watershed and particularly it’s northernmost lakes.
Gurall and three neighbors joined to fight the proposed grid-scale industrial wind project and formed the Partnership for the preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed (See www.ppdlw.org.)
The proposal called for 27 turbines, each of which would be 43 stories tall. “Considering that our tallest building in Maine—the Franklin Towers in Portland—is only 208 feet tall, these industrial monoliths on their own would be more than twice that height, and they proposed erecting them at a location that was already 700 to 1,200 feet above the surrounding lakes,” Gurall said.
“As you are aware, with the help and support of the lodge and sporting camp owners and a significant number of professional Maine guides—in fact, this area has the highest per capita number of guides in the entire state—we were the first industrial wind project opposition group who successfully defended a proposed wind turbine project in the state,” Gurall told the governor.
Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission voted unanimously to deny the permit based on the scenic impact of the project on 10 lakes, which had been determined to be of statewide or national significance in the state’s “Wild Lands Lake Assessment” study.
“LURC deemed that this project would have an undue adverse impact, not only on the scenic qualities of this watershed, but also would have a severe negative impact on the sporting-based tourism business that is the lifeblood of this area,” Gurall said.
But before the ink was dry on LURC’s denial, John Lamontagne, executive vice president of First Wind, stated that the company would be back with another project proposal by the fall.
“They think that they can satisfy the DEP’s requirements by simply moving a couple of turbines or eliminating one or two,” Gurall said. “As one of the LURC commissioners stated in the previous denial document, even one 43-story turbine overshadowing this pristine watershed with its wilderness character is one too many,” he told the governor.
“While your primary purpose for being here today is to participate in David Kotok’s annual financial summit meeting, we wanted to take advantage of your visit to recognize your stance against industrial grid-scale wind power and to ask for your help in protecting our businesses from certain economic ruin if this project is allowed to be built,” Gurall said to LePage.
Gurall introduced some of the business owners who livelihoods are threatened by the First Wind project: Charles Driza, who with his sister Cecilia own and operate Leen’s Lodge; Lindsay Wheaton, who owns and operates the Grand Lake Lodge with her husband, Chris; and Steve Norris, whose family also has a significant history of sporting camp and lodge ownership. Both Driza and Norris are registered Maine guides.
Gurall also introduced the professional Maine Guides who were present. “You know, these are the guys who stitch together a living being year-round guides,” he told the governor. “These aren’t the guys who just took a course and bought the shoulder patch. They live the lifestyle every day and are among Maine’s most effective tourism ambassadors.”
In addition to Dale Tobey, who crafted the paddle for LePage, Gurall introduced Tobey’s brother Dave, who has been active in the Downeast Lakes Land Trust conservation association and is involved in any issue that affects the watershed; and Lou Cataldo, a fourth-generation guide and Grand Lake Streams selectman whose family has a very rich history in this area.
Gurall also introduced J.R. Mabee, president of the Grand Lake Stream Guides Association, which represents 43 guides in the area. Mabee presented the paddle to Governor LePage.
Gurall noted that there were a few others in attendance that he doesn’t know as well. “But I can assure you that they all play an integral part in trying to maintain the true wilderness character and lifestyle that is this area’s pedigree,” he told the governor.