BELFAST, Maine – Officials are worried that a wind-turbine project at the other end of the state could snarl traffic to a crawl this summer, a situation that could have a damaging impact on the city’s economy.
“We’re concerned that this could affect us greatly during our busiest time of the year,” City Manager Joseph Slocum said Wednesday. “This could become a major imposition on this community.”
The wind turbine generators are expected to begin arriving in Searsport by ship later this week. They will be stored there before eventually being loaded onto trucks and transported through Belfast on the first leg of a five-hour drive to Kibby and Skinner townships near Coburn Gore in Franklin County on the Quebec border.
TransCanada Maine Wind Development Inc. is constructing a 44-turbine, 132-megawatt project on Kibby Mountain which is expected to open next year.
The problem is, Slocum said, the logistics of moving the generators and blades through the city will require that Route 1 be temporarily shut down in both directions as often as five days a week during June and July this year and next.
In order to transport the generators and blades from the Searsport docks to Route 3, the 150-foot-long trucks will have to bypass a section of Route 1 because the cargo is too high to fit under the High Street and Waldo Avenue overpasses.
To avoid the overpasses, Reed & Reed, the Woolwich company handling the Kibby Mountain Wind Project, has proposed driving the trucks up the on-ramp at the end of the Veterans Memorial Bridge, crossing High Street, continuing along Field Street, crossing Waldo Avenue and returning to Route 1 over the Waldo Avenue off-ramp. The trucks would then cross into the southbound travel lane until making the turn on Route 3.
Because the trucks would be traveling the wrong way down the Route 1 access ramps and Field Street, the project would require shutting down the route in both directions until the trucks reach Route 3.
To accomplish that, the city would have to agree to permit the widening of Field Street and the removal of trees on both High and Field streets. The traffic islands at the Route 1 and 3 intersection also would have to be removed in order for the trucks to navigate that route.
Slocum said there will be 182 wind turbine shipments this summer and another 182 shipments next year. That averages out to six to eight truckloads a day, five days a week. Although the planners expect each transit from the bridge to Route 3 to shut down traffic for about 20 minutes, Slocum is doubtful.
“There is no way they can to this in 20 minutes, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “I have asked them to put in writing exactly what their plan is so I can understand what the ramifications are.”
In addition, he said, because many more wind power projects are on the drawing board for western Maine and would need to use the same shipment route, the city could be faced with summer delays for years.
“This may impact us for hundreds of years to come,” Slocum said. “We don’t want to be the black hole of Maine that nobody can drive through.”
Sandra M. Duchesne, the James W. Sewall Co. of Old Town engineer in charge of the road widening projects, said the route has been approved by the Department of Transportation. She said the overland route to Kibby Mountain was relatively problem-free except for where it passes through the city.
“For the most part, Belfast is the biggest challenge,” Duchesne said Wednesday. “I understand their concerns and we’re going to do the best to accommodate them.”
Reed & Reed engineer Arthur Cavanaugh said planners began plotting the route last year. He said the DOT determined that the safest way was through Belfast, despite the potential inconvenience. He said if the weather is favorable the entire shipment could be completed within five weeks. Each truck would have a state police escort front and rear. He said Anderson Trucking Service of Wisconsin was “world renowned” for transporting windmills.
Cavanaugh said renewable energy was important for the nation’s future and was hopeful the community supported the project.
“I think everybody understands the magnitude of what this endeavor is,” Cavanaugh said. “We all have to put our heads together and reach a solution that benefits everybody.”
Slocum said that the City Council was a strong proponent of wind power but that members were concerned about the long-term impact of travelers seeking alternative routes around the city to avoid gridlock.
Slocum said that although the DOT has approved the route and schedule, the council has suggested that at least planners should reconsider the time frame. He said council members would prefer that the roads be shut down between midnight and early morning instead of during daylight hours.
“It’s not that we don’t want to cooperate with wind power,” Slocum said. “We all love wind power. Belfast is very pro wind power.”
TransCanada’s project is expected to produce power equivalent to the needs of 50,000 homes.