Maine’s mountains have become battlegrounds for developers, policymakers, activists and the public.
The 2006 Maine Mountain Conference provided a forum to air diverse and, at times, controversial points of view. Outside, the season’s first snow flurries, whipped by a harsh wind, swirled around Saddleback Mountain ski resort’s spacious new base lodge.
Elsa Sanborn, event organizer and treasurer of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, said that most of the attendees were from Maine.
“We have close to 200 registrations for the conference,” Sanborn said.
Many of the environmental, business, and government groups had clashed in the past about changes in allowable land use, and Saturday’s conference was a chance to see what progress had been made in the past 34 years.
The first Maine Mountain Conference was held in 1972. During that time, the newly formed Maine Land Use Regulation Commission prepared a comprehensive plan to protect the land and mountains in the unorganized territories. Many of the first conference attendees came to the 2006 conference with increased apprehension, as LURC is considering altering its zoning protections of mountain tops above 2,700 feet.
Conference sponsors, including the Western Maine Audubon Society, Friends of Baxter Sate Park, Friends of the Boundary Mountains, and Rangeley Lake Heritage Trust mingled with Maine guides, foresters, landscape contractors, and soil scientists.
David Rocque, a soil scientist with the Maine Department of Agriculture, explained how the different soil layers have been affected by pollution.
“I’m not saying what’s right or wrong, but if we’re going to build roads in the mountains, we should make sure we do it right,” he said.
Nearly all agreed that the issue of climate change needs to be addressed globally, nationally, and locally. Even large corporations like Wal-Mart realize their way of doing business can be affected if they don’t deal with environmental concerns, suggested one presenter.
“We want to keep those protections that have been in place since 1972 in the face of growing demands of wind power, mineral explorations and housing developments,” organizer Richard Fecteau said.
Those demands might include LURC’s approval of the application for a “wind farm,” submitted by Maine Mountain Windpower, LLC.
The project, proposed Harley Lee of Endless Energy, would erect 200-foot tall towers to generate electricity. His proposal includes rezoning two tracts in Redington Township from a protected mountain zone to a planned development subdistrict. If the rezoning application is approved, a construction permit would be required to erect 30 turbines on the ridge line along Redington Pond Range and Black Nubble Mountain.
Lee said that the $150 million project would remove 800,000 pounds of pollutants a day from existing power plants in New England, the equivalent of taking 26,000 cars off the road. It would include utility lines, a substation, maintenance facility and access roads.
By Valerie Tucker, Correspondent
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