Environmental groups that are fighting a proposed $150 million wind farm in Maine’s western mountains said Thursday that a state agency’s endorsement of the plan violates the law and its own zoning rules.
The groups said the recommendation of the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission staff dismissed or ignored evidence presented by opponents. They also said the recommendation violates standards for development in the land use plan for Maine’s unorganized territories.
The state agency’s director called those criticisms nonsense.
The staff recommendation will play a role on Wednesday when the seven-member commission meets to make a decision on Maine Mountain Power’s plans for the Redington wind farm.
The 90-megawatt project would put 30 turbines on the ridge of the Redington Pond Range and Black Nubble Mountain, between Carrabasset Valley and Rangeley.
The Redington project would be the largest wind farm in New England. It has been among the most controversial because of its location in a cluster of 4,000-foot mountain peaks near the Appalachian Trail.
If approved, the project could help clear the way for other, even larger, wind power proposals in Maine.
Environmentalists have been divided on the plan, with some supporting it as a way to reduce the use of fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.
Maine Audubon, the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Appalachian Trail Club and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy repeated their opposition to the plan on Thursday at a news conference at the Gilsland Farm Audubon Center, saying the risks to the sensitive sub-alpine ecosystem and valuable recreation area outweigh the benefits.
They also hinted strongly that approval by the commission could lead to a court appeal based on what the critics called legal flaws in the staff review.
“The LURC staff recommendation fails to address the most important questions raised by this development,” said Jenn Burns, staff attorney for Maine Audubon.
The recommendation is so one-sided in favor of the developer, she said, that it would set a standard that any development proposal “can walk right over.”
Catherine Carroll, the commission’s director, said the Attorney General’s Office reviewed the recommendation she gave commissioners and found it legally sound. Opposing arguments are summarized in the document, but most of the recommendation focuses on arguments for approval because the staff agreed that the plan meets its rezoning standards, she said.
“I do believe the petitioner has met the burden of proof that this project, if done right, will not create an undue adverse impact,” she said.
The agency’s commissioners can reject or accept the staff recommendations, and Carroll said she expects an extensive discussion before any vote is taken Wednesday. The meeting will start at 9:30 a.m. at the University of Maine at Farmington. Carroll said she expects a legal challenge of the final decision, whether it is approved or rejected.
Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:
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