The regulator, created to protect nature, is allowing fragile habitats to be destroyed
The Maine Legislature created the Land Use Regulation Commission in 1971 to serve the people of Maine and act as the regulatory authority over 10.4 million acres of unorganized land – one of the largest contiguous undeveloped areas in the Northeast. Among LURC’s responsibilities are promotion of orderly development, and protection of natural and ecological values.
In 1974, to ensure the protection of fragile and irreplaceable soil and habitat, Maine’s mountainous areas above 2,700 feet were protected by LURC from ecologically damaging development. The agency was not “blowing in the wind” with their ideas. That protection stood the test of time until January 2008, when LURC reversed the protection of our fragile mountains.
Now, TransCanada’s Kibby Wind project has its permits from LURC and the Department of Environmental Protection. This project will change the Western Maine mountains forever. It is so huge, it’s difficult to sum the total environmental impact, but let me provide a brief overview. The information below is from the final plan submitted by TransCanada to LURC. The document is available on LURC’s Web site.
There will be 47 intermittent and 38 perennial streams impacted by temporary bridgeways and culverts that will divert them up to 225 feet. For roads and towers, 423.6 acres will be permanently impacted. Another 310 acres will be cleared and changed from forest and wetland to right-of-ways for transmission lines.
There will be 30.5 miles of roads, which includes upgrading existing roads and new roads that need a carrying capacity of 100 tons. The width of the roads will range from 25 to 35 feet.
There will be new buildings; a temporary batch plant for producing 700 cubic yards of concrete for each turbine pad, rock crushers, blasting for roads and turbine locations, and the filling of at least 20 acres by the unused rock and dirt from the blasting and road construction.
The Northern Bog Lemming is a threatened species, and the project will impact its habitat. The Atlantic Salmon and the Canadian Lynx, both listed as endangered, will also have their habitat damaged or permanently impacted.
Five plant species listed by the state as endangered have been identified in the project through the wetlands that will be impacted by transmission lines. This doesn’t even include the hundreds of migratory birds, bats and raptors that will perish each year as a result of the 400-foot high turbines.
We are surrendering these fragile places to a development that could be decommissioned in as little as 25 years, as admitted by the developer. Twenty-five years! And the consequences will be with us into the indefinite future.
They insist on a TIF, will receive a huge federal subsidy, but they may well be gone by 2033?
The Governor’s Task Force on Wind Power Development promoted 2,000 megawatts of wind energy in Maine by 2015, and 3,000 megawatts by 2020. It established an “expedited review and permitting area” in Maine to ease permitting requirements, an area that includes at least one-third of LURC’s jurisdiction and a total area of 14 million acres. Rezoning would not be required in the expedited unorganized area and the permitting process should take only 185 days. Is this good for these special areas?
This task force abandoned the very idea of stewardship and capitulated to temporary commands of a very temporary administration. LURC has become foot soldiers for developers and surrendered the near-sacred trust placed in them by former legislators, and the people of Maine, who have a field of vision broader than what is either convenient or politically correct.
It is lonely at the top of the mountain, standing against the tide of state policy, public opinion, public interest groups and deep pockets willing to exploit mountains as sacrificial areas in trades and arrangements to benefit their interests.
LURC has made a bad decision. Generations from now will look back and shake their heads at these piles of metal and wonder why.
Nancy O’Toole of Phillips is vice president of the Friends of the Boundary Mountains, a nonprofit that intervened in the TransCanada proceedings before LURC. She has a bachelor of science degree in environmental engineering from Montana Tech and 10 years’ experience with high mountain road construction and hazardous waste clean up of towns in Utah.
20 July 2008