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Eastern Maine residents give wind farm plan mixed reviews

LEE – Residents spoke for and against a $100 million wind farm being proposed for far eastern Maine when the Land Use Regulation Commission held its first public hearing on the project Tuesday.

Evergreen Wind Power is seeking a zoning change to build 38 wind turbines on Stetson Mountain, a ridge line that runs about six miles along the border between northern Washington County and Penobscot County between Danforth and Springfield.

Dale Wheaton told the commission that he owns a sporting lodge on a nearby lake and doesn’t regard 400-foot turbines as a benefit to his business. They would be a blemish on the natural beauty that draws his clients to the region in the first place, he said.

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

Wheaton was one of nearly a dozen people who expressed concerns about the project. But others spoke in favor of the proposal at the hearing, held at Lee Academy.

Kirk Ritchie, a business owner and selectman, said he thinks the project will benefit the local economy.

“Locally, we’re excited about the prospect of the short-term jobs for the area and also the handful of long-term jobs,” Ritchie told the commission.

The proposed Stetson Mountain project so far has been relatively free of controversy. It is being proposed in a sparsely populated area and would be built on a ridge line with extensive logging roads already in place.

Several environmental groups have endorsed the project, which would generate roughly 58 megawatts of energy, enough for about 27,500 Maine homes.

But as the LURC board members heard Tuesday, that doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns among local residents about having what would be New England’s largest wind farm in their backyards.

Debra Walten, who lives about two miles from the proposed project, was one of several people who expressed reservations about effects on wildlife, the possibility of wells fracturing during construction, and fire risks from the turbines.

Walten is also worried that dust from 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.”

The Associated Press, August 9, 2007