HARPSWELL – Two people who helped create the popular Cliff Trail are opposing a wind study being proposed for the site.
They are urging residents to vote no at Saturday’s Town Meeting on a $10,000 appropriation for the study that could lead to three or four wind turbines being built at the town’s highest point.
Residents will decide at Town Meeting if Harpswell should pursue the study atop the 200-foot ridge known as Long Reach. The town-owned Cliff Trail leads hikers to that ridge.
Tulle Frazer and Robert Bryan were among the volunteers who established the trail in 2000.
Frazer on Monday said she and her husband oppose the project because it would result in major environmental impacts on wildlife habitats and noise pollution to nearby residents. They said the project would require clearing major swaths of old growth trees and affect the habitat of ospreys nesting nearby.
“This is a sensitive ecological site with old growth trees,” Bryan said in a prepared statement. “It would be impossible to build this project without permanently destroying a significant area of this unique coastal forest.”
Bryan, who is a forest ecologist, added that the project would disturb fragile ecosystems in the area. Frazer said she has been visiting neighbors of Long Reach to warn them about the potential noise pollution and health hazards.
While the couple are among only a few who have publicly expressed opposition to the proposal, their stand could foreshadow a spirited debate on the floor of Town Meeting. The discussion could become a microcosm of battles already raging across the state about wind power.
Although wind is a renewable energy source, the appearance and sound of wind turbines have been the source of debate around the state, in many cases pitting environmentalists against environmentalists. Wind farms at Black Nubble and Redington Pond are most recent examples, where the Natural Resources Council of Maine found itself clashing with unlikely foes: Maine Audubon and Appalachian Trail advocates.
Bryan works for Maine Audubon, while Frazer works for Distant Journeys, a company that offers international hiking tours.
“I certainly think wind is a good idea if it’s sited properly,” Frazer said. “I just feel like this land is worth a lot more than the minimum energy wind turbines there would provide.”
The adequacy of the wind source at Long Reach is a subject of contention.
Initially, the town sought a no-cost wind study through the University of Massachusetts Renewable Energy Research Laboratories. RERL responded by saying a wind farm on Long Reach may not be economically viable.
Resident Richard Newman, who has initiated the exploration of Long Reach, disagreed with those findings, saying RERL’s wind readings were based on potentially erroneous assumptions. He added that Harpswell was competing with other larger, projects for no-cost studies.
RERL pays for its studies using grants from the U.S. Department of Energy.
In December, Mary Knight, a member of the RERL pre-development team, said wind speed models showed the site to be a low-wind location.
Knight said those readings don’t rule out the overall viability of wind turbines on Long Reach. But coupled with the cost of the project – estimated between $10 million and $12 million – a marginal wind source may make Long Reach unattractive to a private developer.
Although the turbines would be built on town-owned land, the original proposal was to lease the property to a developer who could afford the project.
“Things do change,” Knight said. “As the price of energy goes up the economics look better on wind.”
Since being turned down by RERL, Newman successfully persuaded the Board of Selectmen to present a warrant article calling for a $10,000 appropriation toward a wind study.
Costs of the study have been estimated between $25,000 and $35,000. However, the article states that the first $20,000 would be raised privately. If approved, the town would contribute the difference, but no more than $10,000.
That’s too much for a marginal wind source with high ecological costs, Frazer said.
“If it’s a borderline (source) why waste the money?” she said.
Newman has argued that the wind study could pay dividends.
“If this should succeed, the town stands to get very considerable cash revenue,” he said recently. “In addition, we have something that’s positive for the environment and we have potential cash income for a remote property that’s not particularly attractive for residential development.”
If approved by residents, the town would set up an energy fund for the $10,000 allocation. If private funding for the study fails to reach two-thirds of total costs by March 2009, the project would terminate.
The wind study would take a year, with residents potentially deciding on a Long Reach wind farm by 2010.
“People can decide how they feel about the wind farm later,” Newman said. “We should keep an open mind in approaching the potential we have there.”
By Steve Mistler
March 06, 2008
Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or email@example.com.
FYI: Harpswell Town Meeting is Saturday, March 8, at Harpswell Islands School. Polls are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the election of three members of the Board of Selectmen, two School Administrative District 75 directors seats and voting on two referendum questions: A nearly $114,000 appropriation for Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick and amendments to the subdivision ordinance on cluster development. Other warrant items will be acted on starting at noon.
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