Tourism is a nature-based industry that depends upon beautiful, unspoiled surroundings. As David Vail points out in his chapter on Maine tourism in “Changing Maine,” 1960-2010 tourism does not extract material from the landscape as other natural resource-based industries such as forestry, fisheries or agriculture, but tourism’s success requires a healthy natural system that is observed and enjoyed and not harvested like so many trees or placement of wind turbines on mountaintops.
A “destination driver” in Western Maine is Bigelow Mountain and adjoining Flagstaff Lake, both offering a landscape that is uncluttered and serene, and that provides visitors with a sense of escape from our fast-paced world.
The Bigelow Preserve does not function independently of the surrounding landscapes. What is done outside of the preserve’s boundary affects the quality of the experience for those visitors within its borders, as landscapes are contiguous and cannot be separated at a boundary post. One can see for miles from Avery or West Peak, or from another of the many viewing points on Bigelow.
Yes, one can see roads and the occasional camp from the summit, as well as a recent clear-cut, or one that is nearly healed. These intrusions into the landscape are small, considering the vastness of the vista, and do not overwhelm the observer or distract from the sense of beauty of the area.
However, there is new intrusion on the horizon that will significantly change the Bigelow landscape. Four-hundred-foot wind turbines, placed about 600 feet apart, are proposed to be built just a few miles southeast of the Bigelow Mountain, arguably only second to Mt. Katahdin in significance and one of the most important destination drivers in western Maine.
If the Bigelow/Flagstaff area is to be promoted as a recreational destination and local business want to profit from the area’s uniqueness, then the visual landscape has to stay intact.
The impact of a wind farm near Bigelow is reflective of a larger threat to many mountains of Western Maine.
Virtually all mountains that have favorable winds are vulnerable to wind development. LD 2283, Maine’s expedited wind-permitting law, requires the Land Use Regulation Commission (except in rare situations) not to consider scenic character on the surrounding area, the natural character of ridge lines nor impact on views. This “views-don’t-count” regulation will have a major impact on tourism in the mountainous region of Western Maine.
It is not that the view of one wind farm will have a devastating effect on the landscape, but the accumulative effects of many such projects will monopolize the landscape and degrade the area’s recreation resource economy.
Currently, there are three industrial wind projects being planning between Mayfield Plantation and Sisk Mountain in Chain of Ponds Township. Those projects, along with the constructed Kibby project, would result in a combined total of at least 200 industrial wind turbines that would cover about 23 miles of mountaintops.
Unlike most residential subdivisions, or even commercial development that can only be seen for short distances, industrial wind development has a long reach when it comes to visual effect. Because they are located on mountaintops, they can be seen for tens of miles within aligned valleys and from other mountaintops.
Tourism has long benefited the coastal areas, despite efforts to encourage visitors to the more remote regions of the state. One has to consider that if there is a proliferation of wind power development, it will be even more difficult for Western Maine to attract tourist dollars.
Hundreds of wind turbines sprawled across mountaintops will make it difficult for people in the tourism sector to convince potential visitors that they should spend their vacation dollars to see turbines blocking the mountain landscape.
In other words, if the natural environment of Western Maine does not remain intact, it will be even more difficult for the area to compete with lighthouses, lobster dinners and Thunder Hole.
LURC must be given the authority to consider view sheds in the review of industrial wind power project applications, as well as the cumulative impact of wind development on other types of economic development dependent on a healthy natural system.
Citizens need to decide if they are willing to accept the loss of a natural landscape for the expectation of green energy.
The handwriting is on the wall that without looking at all the ramifications of industrial wind development, tourism will, over time, suffer as the landscape will be forever changed and any expectation for a vibrant economy based on tourism will pass.
Some say you can’t eat the mountains and landscapes. However, if you are dependent on tourism for making a living, you can’t survive without them.
Norman Kalloch lives in Carrying Place Town Township.
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