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Concerns heard about wind farm

LEE, Maine – Dale Wheaton said he has nothing against wind energy.

But as the owner of a traditional sporting lodge, Wheaton doesn’t regard 400-foot-tall wind turbines on the horizon of a lake where he takes clients as a benefit to his business.

Rather, Wheaton described those hypothetical turbines as a blemish on the natural beauty that drew his clients to the region in the first place.

“From my perspective, will it put me out of business? No, it won’t,” Wheaton, owner of Wheaton’s Lodge in Forest City, said Tuesday evening. “Will it make the experience less for my clients? Absolutely.”

Wheaton was one of nearly a dozen people who expressed concern at a public hearing Tuesday night about Evergreen Wind Power’s plans to build a 38-turbine wind farm on Stetson Mountain in rural, northern Washington County.

But for nearly every critic of the plan among the 80 people in attendance at Lee Academy there was someone like Kirk Ritchie, a small-business owner and local selectman who believes the estimated $100 million project will benefit the local economy.

“Locally, we’re excited about the prospect of the short-time [construction] jobs for the area and also the handful of long-term jobs,” Ritchie told members of the Land Use Regulation Commission.

As far as wind projects go, Evergreen Wind’s proposal for Stetson Mountain has been relatively uncontroversial so far. The project is located in a sparsely populated area between the communities of Danforth and Springfield and would be built on a ridgeline with extensive logging roads already in place.

Several major environmental groups have endorsed the project, which would generate roughly 58 megawatts of pollution-free energy. And the project has no organized opposition.

But as the LURC board members heard Tuesday night, that doesn’t mean there are no serious concerns among local residents about the impact of having what would be New England’s largest wind farm in their backyards.

Debra Walten, who lives about two miles from the proposed wind farm, was one of several residents who expressed concerns about impacts on wildlife, the possibility of wells fracturing during construction, and fire risks from the turbines.

Walten said she also worries that dust from the construction vehicles or increased traffic could aggravate her husband’s medical problems.

“I’ve lived there all of my life. I love living there, It’s nice and quiet,” she said. “I can’t imagine it changing. I don’t think it’s worth it myself.”

Representatives of UPC Wind Management, the parent company of Evergreen Wind, estimated construction of the turbines would create up to 200 jobs.

Harold Clossey, executive director of the Sunrise County Economic Council, based in Machias, commended UPC for its commitment to using local workers and resources. That will create a ripple effect throughout the community, he said.

“We feel the investment that UPC will make in our area is not only significant but will have lasting impacts … for years to come,” Clossey said.

Representatives from several companies that helped UPC construct its Mars Hill wind farm in Aroostook County also praised the company and said they looked at the Stetson Mountain project as another economic development opportunity.

But the commissioners also heard from several Mars Hill residents who are upset about noise levels and scenic impacts from that facility, which became fully operational earlier this year.

Rod Mahan, who can see 21 of the Mars Hill turbines from his home, said he is concerned that these wind-energy projects seem to be going into rural, lower-income areas.

A 30-turbine wind farm near Sugarloaf/USA ski resort in western Maine, meanwhile, was rejected by the commission, he pointed out. The developer of that project, Maine Mountain Power, has since submitted a scaled-down proposal that has gained more support from environmental groups.

“I’m sure if I had a million-dollar home in Sugarloaf that I wouldn’t want to look at a windmill,” Mahan said. “Unfortunately, I have a lesser-value home in Mars Hill and I am looking at 21.”

LURC members will get a chance to ask questions about anticipated noise levels and other concerns raised Tuesday during a second day of meetings with UPC and Evergreen officials today.

That meeting, which is open to the public, is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. in the auditorium of Lee Academy.

By Kevin Miller

Bangor Daily News

8 August 2007