The surprising rejection on Wednesday of a proposed wind farm near Rangeley sends one clear message to landowners with development plans for Maine’s North Woods.
Members of Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission aren’t afraid to make up their own minds about what activities are allowed by the strict rules that protect the 10 million acres of unorganized territory.
Neither widespread support for wind power nor a strong endorsement by LURC’s own staff swayed the commissioners in this case. They effectively voted 6-1 against the Redington wind farm after citing concerns about its visual and environmental effects.
Overturning a staff recommendation is unusual, but doing it as strongly as commissioners did on Wednesday was stunning.
“They were very unhappy with” the staff’s recommendation, said Catherine Carroll, the LURC director, who must now write a denial recommendation for the commissioners to approve formally at a future meeting. The bottom line is, as Carroll put it, “the commission has the last word.”
But while commissioners showed they are no rubber stamp, the vote doesn’t mean they’re against wind energy or development in general, Carroll said.
The Redington project was the second wind farm proposed in the commission’s jurisdiction. The first was approved in 1994 but was never built. The commission will soon see more.
Alberta-based TransCanada submitted an application this month to put 44 wind turbines on Kibby Mountain and Kibby Range.
The commission is expecting another application soon from a company that plans to put wind turbines in northern Aroostook County.
Maine’s first large wind farm is starting to generate power in Mars Hill, but it was approved by the town and is not in the area regulated by LURC.
Gov. John Baldacci and other state leaders have encouraged wind power development in Maine, and the idea has broad environmental support as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels. The commissioners, who are appointed by the governor, focused their objections Wednesday on the specifics and location of the Redington project, which faced strong opposition particularly because of its location near the Appalachian Trail.
“I don’t think there’s any writing on the wall whatsoever here about the fate of the TransCanada project,” Carroll said. “The outcome could be very different than the one today.”
TransCanada officials were in the room to watch the vote, but a spokesperson said later that the company had no comment.
Northern Maine landowners with different kinds of development plans were put on notice Wednesday that a project that satisfies the LURC staff will not necessarily satisfy the commissioners.
“I guess I’m a little disappointed that the commission didn’t follow the recommendation,” said Jim Lehner, general manager of Plum Creek Timber Co. The company has applied to rezone land in the Moosehead Lake region to allow two resorts and 975 house lots.
It is now making revisions after consulting with the LURC staff and other state agencies.
Lehner said he doesn’t see parallels between the Redington wind farm and his company’s plans.
“I don’t think it’s going to have a lot of bearing on what we’re trying to do,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is prepare a plan the staff can accept.”
And then, once again, the commission will have the last word.
By John Richardson
Portland Press Herald
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