Harley Lee and I are not friends. The only time we’ve met was a couple of years ago in a Carrabassett Valley bar, where I told him the world would be a better place if somebody poisoned his drink. I also may have mentioned that I wouldn’t mind being that somebody. I bring this up because I’m about to say something about Lee that could be interpreted as a compliment, and I don’t want you to think I’m sucking up.
Here it is: Harley Lee is probably the most persistent human being on Earth.
I mean persistent like a before-the-prom pimple. Lee is the antibiotic-resistant staph infection of the business world.
Am I being too nice?
Lee is president of Endless Energy of Yarmouth, a company that’s been trying for more than a decade to build a 30-turbine wind farm on Redington and Black Nubble mountains in western Maine, not far from where I live. While there are compelling financial and environmental reasons to oppose wind power, I admit my antagonism toward Lee’s project – and my interest in slipping something toxic in his drink – is motivated in part by a case of not-in-my-backyard syndrome. Wind turbines are a dumb idea most places, but they’re even dumber if I have to look at them.
As a result, I was pleased when the state Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) made it clear in 2007 that it was ready to reject Lee’s plan, because it had too much visual impact on the nearby Appalachian Trail and too much construction impact on pristine wilderness. I was delighted earlier this year when LURC, for much the same reasons, turned down Lee’s revised proposal to limit the turbines to Black Nubble. I was overjoyed in February when the governor’s wind-power task force issued a report recommending Redington Township, where the two mountains are located, be officially off limits to wind-power development. And I cheered this spring when the Legislature ignored Lee’s pleas to alter the report and approved its recommendations.
Game over? Not when this guy is involved.
Having already invested $5 million in the plot to ruin Redington, Lee clung to it like a blood-starved tick on a moose’s butt. He knew there was one more way to get around the rules and the law.
He could have the town of Carrabassett Valley annex Redington Township.
Annexation would remove the area from LURC’s jurisdiction and the task force’s edict, and place the power to green-light his project with the local planning board. In a phone interview in which he noted that I’d once threatened to poison him, Lee called the land grab, “one possibility.”
Are there other possibilities?
“I don’t have any others,” he said.
To accomplish this scheme, Lee would have to win approval not only from the town, but also from the Legislature, which has authority over such consolidations. (Redington gets no say in the matter, because, apparently, nobody lives there.) To help convince all those who need convincing, Lee has hired a team of lobbyists from Bernstein Shur Government Solutions in Augusta. He told them he wants a bill ready for the next session of the Legislature in January.
Lee is fond of stating his wind farm is supported by 90 percent of Maine voters, a claim that seems to be based on a thoroughly unscientific poll conducted by MaineBiz magazine earlier this year. That survey may have even less validity in Carrabassett, where Town Manager Dave Cota said it was far from certain that voters would approve taking over Redington, because such a move would be seen as endorsing the wind farm. “There’s a lot of opposition in this community to that project,” Cota said. “A lot of people may view this as an end-around.”
Bob Luce, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, also expressed skepticism. Luce said that while the wind farm could produce a windfall of new property taxes for the town, the annexation could have drawbacks. If the project doesn’t get built, Carrabassett would be left with the responsibility for managing a huge tract of land with almost no extra money to pay for it. Most of Redington falls under the state Tree Growth tax program, which reduces the property taxes the owners must pay. In addition, Luce worries about the huge burden the wind-power project would place on the local planning board, which has few resources. He said he’s undecided on annexation.
“I support the windmills,” he said. “I just think it’s a backdoor way of going around [LURC].”
Lee thinks local voters will be swayed by all the new tax revenue his $180-million worth of wind turbines will generate.
Wait. Did he say $180 million?
That’s $50 million more than the price tag Lee put on the original Redington and Black Nubble proposal back in 2006. Inflation probably accounts for some of that increase, but it also appears Lee is planning to despoil more territory this time around than even some of his supporters thought he should.
Like I said, the guy is persistent.
So, tell me, Doc, how many of these pills in a drink would be fatal?
By Al Diamon
21 July 2008