Gov. Angus King once said that no fish should leave the state of Maine with its head on. King was referring to the tired history of Maine selling its raw materials on the cheap while others made real money by processing them.
The Kibby Mountain wind project is in this unfortunate tradition.
When Maine was a colony of Massachusetts, 90 percent of the state was sold off to private interests that extracted resources as fast as they could.
Recent actions of Maine paper companies have followed the same pattern, and we now have degraded forests of more value to developers than to timber harvesters. This transformation of Maine’s woods from working forest to real-estate parcels has led to unprecedented second-home construction and fragmented land use.
Areas once open to hunting and fishing are now closed. The transfer of the logged-over Boundary Mountains to Plum Creek and thence to Trans-Canada is part of the continuing erosion of the value of Maine’s woods.
TransCanada sees opportunity in this transaction. If there weren’t profit to be made, it would be spending its development capital elsewhere.
Those of us concerned about the public good in this state should ask, what’s in it for us?
TransCanada’s central argument is the need for green power. The total generation of electricity by this project will be easily swallowed up by our current 1.8 percent per capita annual increase in electricity consumption.
Without efforts to regulate demand, described by Gov. John Baldacci as an insatiable beast, this project will have no impact on Maine’s swelling carbon footprint or global climate change. It will not take a single coal-fired plant off line.
Wind power projects such as this are little more than feel-good exercises when global warming calls for profound changes in societal approaches to energy use
The majority of wind farms are in far different settings than isolated ridgelines. In the Midwest, wind is dependable, and wind energy and existing uses, especially farming, comfortably co-exist. The Aroostook County wind project, now in its planning stages, is estimated to generate 500 megawatts, more than all the other projects in New England combined, and it doesn’t threaten any fragile habitat.
Technology is advancing to the point that towers can be located at lower elevations, closer to populations, where they should be. I am not a NIMBY. I want this in my backyard, not festooned across 13 miles of undeveloped ridgeline.
While Maine Audubon and the Appalachian Mountain Clubs, organizations I belong to, support this project, their own siting criteria do not. Potential soil damage, loss of backcountry recreational potential, habitat fragmentation, view impact and degradation of a valuable sub-alpine spruce-fir community are being ignored.
This project creates a precedent of industrial development in delicate, protected habitats, and permanent degradation of a remote, undeveloped resource. All of Maine will feel the impact of industrializing a protected mountain zone.
Last Sunday, my wife, a friend and I hiked across the Kibby Range. As we sat on the ridge for lunch, we gazed 18 miles to the south and took in the magnificent sweep from Moxie across the Bigelow Range with Flagstaff and Jim Pond glistening in the midground.
This area is a gem.
The Kibby area is heavily logged, but so were the White Mountains and the Smokies. With preservation, these areas have become national treasures and I believe the Kibby range could be one, too.
Just across the border, Canada’s Boundary Mountains are protected from development and used for hunting, hiking and other recreational pursuits, just what we should do here.
The recent Brookings report details the sprawl and suburbanization that threaten the economy of our state.
Protection of Maine’s wild lands is crucial for the “Maine brand,” attracting the next generation of entrepreneurs. It is critical to the preservation of Maine’s natural heritage and economic future.
As it considers this proposal, the Land Use Regulation Commission’s task is to “reconcile the need to protect the natural environment … from uses that cause degradation with the need for traditional, resource-based uses and reasonable new economic growth and development.”
This project doesn’t meet the commission’s standards of protecting the state’s natural resources for the common good.
Let’s follow King’s advice and commit our resources to their highest use now and for the future.
Steve Bien is a family physician who lives in Jay
8 October 2007
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