SANDY RIVER PLANTATION – Members of the Land Use Regulation Commission voted 4-3 Wednesday, Nov. 2 to deny a public hearing for construction of eight meteorological towers on three ridges in Kibby and Skinner townships. They voted along the same lines to approve the permit application for the project that will determine the feasibility of a wind power project on four mountain ridges on the Canadian border.
TransCanada Corp., a Canadian-based energy company with holdings throughout Canada and the United States, proposed the towers to study the feasibility of a $350 million wind power generation facility in an area formerly examined by another company in the 1990s but never developed.
Commissioners upheld the recommendation of senior planner Marcia Spencer Famous, who told them she was satisfied with the application and that the scope of the project, having been given a sufficient public comment period, did not warrant a public hearing.
Two members of Friends of the Boundary Mountains, Robert Kimber and Pam Prodan, filed requests for the public hearing. Prodan and Bob Weingarten were in attendance on behalf of the group Wednesday.
Both Prodan and Weingarten had sent letters to the commission Monday outlining their opposition to Spencer Famous’ recommendation.
"Friends of the Boundary Mountains only learned of this massive proposal when a Bangor Daily News article was posted on the Maine Environmental Policy Institute’s Web site," Weingarten wrote, disputing Spencer Famous’ contention that adequate public notice had been given.
Commissioner Rebecca Kurtz said she was unprepared to make a decision, having received the letters only that morning. She voted against both motions.
"The letters contradict everything you just said to us," Kurtz said to Spencer Famous after her presentation. "I’m very uncomfortable. I find this process very disconcerting," she continued. There seems to be a rush to move forward on this, she said. "I believe there’s more information available."
"There’s a good deal more that needs to be fleshed out," agreed Commissioner Gwendolyn Hilton.
Prodan also thought the project warrants closer examination. She cited legal issues involving land ownership, conflicting statements on soils and roads, and avian and wildlife issues. In particular, she said the applicant presented "a lack of data" and "jumps to conclusions" regarding bird studies.
"The Staff Recommendation generally states that (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) determined that the proposed project would not affect any federally rare or protected species. This is not true," she wrote. "You also make no mention of the fact that in a letter dated Aug. 30, 2005, Doug Kane of the USFWS indicated a risk to golden eagles and peregrine falcons from the met(eorological) towers and the tower guy wires," and said he advised that nest surveys be completed prior to their installation.
"The Staff Recommendation assertion that ‘surveillance’ had been done, without any indication of the results only raises more questions than it answers. One has to wonder whether a valid attempt was made to find this bird."
"I don’t know why Pam has a lot of questions," Spencer Famous said. "Unless she doesn’t believe we’re going to do what we say," she said in reference to planned ongoing bird studies.
The applicant has a significant environmental obligation, said Commissioner Bart Harvey. "Nothing will sink their ship faster than if there were any erosion problems," he said on the issue of roads to accommodate tracked construction vehicles.
Kurtz also asked whether the commission ought to consider remote ridgelines similarly to remote ponds that receive special protections.
"Its intrinsic value is that it’s remote," she said, which is, ironically, one of the arguments for putting the towers and perhaps later wind turbines there.
However, four of her counterparts disagreed, believing that a public hearing would shed no additional light and, apparently, that the permit application was adequate, approving it by a slim margin.