Staffers from Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission are recommending 1,004 mountaintop acres in northern Franklin County be rezoned for a 30-turbine wind-energy project.
Maine Mountain Power LLC has proposed building a $130 million wind farm on the ridges of Redington Pond Range and Black Nubble mountains in Redington Township, about 4 miles west of Sugarloaf/USA in Carrabassett Valley.
The wind farm would consist of turbines on top of towers about 400 feet tall, ridge line roads, two meteorological towers, transmission lines, new access roads and upgraded existing roads among other features.
The project is expected to provide about 100 jobs during its yearlong construction and about 10 permanent jobs to the region.
The LURC staff accepted the company’s more than 1,500-page application as complete in February for the preliminary development plan and petition to rezone the development area for the proposed 90 megawatt wind farm.
Commissioners will hold a special meeting to hear and vote on the staff recommendation Jan. 24, 2007, in the Olsen Student Center’s North Dining Hall at the University of Maine at Farmington.
LURC serves as the zoning and Planning Board for Maine’s more than 10 million acres of unorganized territory.
After reviewing the record, LURC staff found that the proposal conforms with the objectives and policies of the commission’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan.
The developers still have to submit exhibits and statements required for the final development plan, incorporate state and federal agencies’ recommendations and adhere to a lengthy list of other items, if the project is approved.
Harley Lee, president of Endless Energy Corp. in Yarmouth, maintains the project will prevent more than 730,000 pounds of pollution a day from existing power plants and produce enough power for 40,000 Maine homes, with no emissions.
Lee has been working on the development of the wind energy project since he identified the potential site in 1989 or 1990, then with help of supporters Redington Pond Range Mountain was bought in 1998.
Lee’s Endless Energy then partnered with Edison Mission Group, a subsidiary of California-based Edison International to form Maine Mountain Power LLC last year, and the group sold its future power for 10 years in March to Constellation NewEnergy. A contract clause requires them to offer power to medium and large businesses such as hospitals and schools in the local area first.
“This puts us on the 10-yard line after more than five years of moving the ball down the field,” said Randy Mann of Edison Mission Group in a prepared statement.
LURC held a three-day hearing in August that resulted in mixed reaction for the proposed project, and it was still mixed Friday.
Individuals and several groups support the project including the Greater Franklin Development Corp., a Farmington economic development group.
“I feel great. It’s very exciting; an early Christmas present,” Lee said of the LURC staff’ recommendation.
Maine Mountain Power still needs to get final approval from LURC before construction can begin. Lee said he would like to start clearing land this winter and have the wind farm operational by late 2007.
But on Friday, not everyone was as pleased as Lee.
Those opposed to the project, say it will destroy vistas seen from the Appalachian Trail. Some critics also worried that the turbines would destroy the high terrain habitat of a high-risk species of bird, Bicknell’s thrush.
The National Resources Council of Maine supported the 18 turbines on Black Nubble but called for permanent protection from development for the Redington Pond Range, the only Maine mountain besides Sugarloaf that is above 4,000 feet and not protected from development.
Endless Energy said the project was not viable unless both mountains were developed.
Phillips resident Dain Trafton, a member of Friends of the Western Mountains, said he hadn’t read the staff’s recommendation yet. Trafton has collected 2,000 signatures from residents opposed to the project.
“I view it as a very surprising decision in light of evidence presented at the hearings, which showed clearly, I think, that the application was sloppy and did not come close to meeting LURC’s criteria for rezoning,” Trafton said after learning of the recommendation Friday.
“That’s unbelievable,” said Richard Fecteau, a member of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club’ executive committee. The club is also opposed to rezoning the state’s protected mountain ridgelines for wind energy.
Many environmental groups are torn over the proposal as they support clean energy from wind power but are opposed to placing wind farms in places where they will damage wildlife habitat or wilderness experiences for people.
“They had a very deficient application,” Fecteau said. “It was quite clear at the hearing that the work staff was biased to the project. They’re totally forgetting why the mountains were protected in the first place. This is not a good thing for Franklin County.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
By Donna M. Perry, Staff Writer
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