Every once in a while I run into folks who say something like this: “Why save the Boundary Mountains? Why not let TransCanada put a bunch of wind power turbines on Kibby Mountain and on the Kibby Range? Aren’t they just back of nowhere? Most people haven’t even heard of the Boundary Mountains, much less ever been there. If there is any place in Maine that’s a winner for a wind power project,” the argument goes, “this is it.”
I beg to disagree. Places that are “back of nowhere” are the very ones we should be guarding most jealously. If Maine’s wild lands are to be preserved for their traditional uses of timberland management and remote, backcountry recreation, we have to resist every attempt to convert them to industrial and residential use.
So what is it that makes Kibby Mountain so special? Kibby is the keystone peak of the Boundary Mountains, the destination most hikers visit now and will continue to want to visit, provided it remains undeveloped. At 3,654 feet, it is the highest peak in the region and provides a commanding and lovely view over its surrounding mountains, which are all themselves above 3,000 feet: three peaks on the Kibby Range, Caribou Mountain, Spencer Bale, Tumbledown, Peaked, Three Slide, Smart, and, slightly farther away, toward Attean and Holeb Ponds, No. 5 and No. 6. mountains.
Also, within just a few miles of each other, the clear, cold headwater brooks of the Moose River and the Kibby and Spencer Streams start on their way to the Kennebec and the sea. For hikers and bushwhackers who enjoy getting off the beaten path, this area is paradise: all these mountains to climb, and the labyrinthine valleys of the small brooks that lace the region to explore.
The Boundary Mountains are an invaluable recreational resource today and will become even more valuable in decades to come as population pressures increase on more southerly and accessible mountains like Mount Blue and Tumbledown near Weld and the mountains traversed by the Appalachian Trail. If, however, the southern and lower two thirds of Kibby Mountain were given over to turbines, you’d be looking south onto the Kibby turbine string from the top of the mountain and onto the strings on the Kibby Range only four to five miles away. TransCanada’s turbines would so totally alter the natural character of the entire region that backcountry recreation would no longer be an attractive option for it.
That would be a grave loss because the mountains are a mainstay of our local economy. They are why visitors come to western Maine–not only to hike and camp in the mountains but also just to look at them. Then, too, the mountains are a major reason why people born and raised here stay here and why people who move here choose to settle here. What the rockbound coast is for Down East and what Moosehead Lake, the Allagash, and the St. John are for the North Woods, the mountains are for us here in western Maine. They are the defining feature of our world.
The Friends of the Boundary Mountains, a group that formed a little over 15 years ago to oppose a major wind power installation proposed at that time, still exists today and will once again work to protect the Boundary Mountains from development. We were heartened by the Land Use Regulation Commission’s decision to deny Maine Mountain Power’s application to put thirty wind power turbines on Redington and Black Nubble Mountains near Sugarloaf. We believe the LURC commissioners acted in accordance with Maine law and in the best interests of the State of Maine in countermanding the LURC staff’s recommendation for approval of the Redington project, and we also believe that similar standards will apply on Kibby Mountain and on the Kibby Range, which are also zoned as Mountain Area Protection Subdistricts above 2,700 feet and represent similar aesthetic, biological, geological, scenic, and recreational values.
A final word: We who oppose wind power projects in Maine’s mountains are not blind to the very real threat that global warming represents both to Maine and the entire planet. We argue simply that these projects do not stand up to a cost/benefit analysis. Their benefit in combating global warming is small; their costs to Maine in loss of its mountain resources are high; and there are potential wind power sites in Maine where those costs could be avoided entirely.
With some care and thought, we can save Maine’s mountains and help save the planet as well.
By Robert Kimber
Robert Kimber is a free-lance writer with a long-standing interest in north-woods issues. He lives in Temple.
The Original Irregular
7 March 2007
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