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LURC OKs 11 turbines on Sisk

BANGOR – Now that Maine Land Use Regulatory Commission has given preliminary approval to adding 11 more wind turbines on Sisk Mountain, adjacent to the 44 on Kibby Mountain, TransCanada will be continuing its discussions with LURC to secure final approval, permits and agreements, according to Leanne LeBlanc, Communications Specialist for TransCanada.

The LURC staff will be incorporating the commissioner’s recommendations into its final report which will be voted on at the LURC Jan. 5 meeting, according to Catherine Carroll, director. Once that process is complete, TransCanada will be working on a more definitive timetable for moving ahead. TransCanada’s 55 turbines will represent a $90 million investment in the projects.

Despite compelling arguments last Wednesday, Dec. 8 at LURC’s monthly meeting in Bangor, commissioners said scenic and environmental factors were undoubtedly significant obstacles, but they did not meet the “undue adverse impact” required under Maine’s Wind Energy Act.

The project is located on the 3,300-foot Sisk Mountain in Chain of Ponds Unorganized Territory. The turbines will be visible from the Route 27 scenic by-way in the Chain of Ponds area, but just how visible was a subject for debate.

Additionally, the project is located within the Expedited Wind Power Permitting Area determined by the Governor’s Task Force on Wind Power Development and the Maine legislature, and therefore subject to streamlined permitting provisions. Because of this, LURC was required to find “undue adverse impact,” which it didn’t. The only commissioner saying she would vote against the proposal in January was Rebecca Kurtz, who said, “If I vote for this, I might as well throw out the whole (LURC’s) Comprehensive Land Use Plan,” which was referred to extensively throughout the hearing.

TransCanada Maine Wind Development Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of TransCanada Corp. in Canada, proposed adding 15 turbines. In July LURC requested that its staff deny the proposal because while the eight turbines at the northern half did not pose significant problems, the seven in the southern part had a significant scenic impact from nearby Chain of Ponds, as well as an environmental impact on the sub-alpine trees and the threatened Bicknell Thrush.

In August, TransCanada revamped its proposal dropping the four turbines in the most southern part of the ridgeline, the most ecologically impacted.

Aug. 5, LURC tabled the issue, allowing TransCanada to resubmit a revised downsized expansion plan.

David Publicover, spokesman for a group of opponents called the Consolidated Parties —the Appalachian Mountain Club, Maine Audubon and Natural Resources Council of Maine— said the project would directly or indirectly imperil 55 acres of ecosystems that are valuable and fragile because of their high altitudes, above 2,700 feet, and accused TransCanada of disregarding that effect.

He pointed out the draft proposal did not show the 400- foot up and down, and 800-foot long for the pad for turbine #11. That’s twice as high as the 400-foot high turbine, he said. That’s an extremely large area to be cut and filled. The proposal shows the location of the turbine, not the whole picture, and he maintained this would definitely have a visual impact from the scenic vistas along Chain of Ponds. Turbine #11 is situated more centrally than the other 10 turbines located much further back.

“I’m not against wind power for the sake of being against wind power,” Bob Weingarten, spokesperson for Friends of Boundary Mountains said. He accused the commissioners or ignoring many important issues, and the cumulative impacts of incremental development in these high peaks which in essence will lead to an industrial cluster in the

area, he said. Just because wind is on Kibby mountain does not make this a “harmonious fit for Sisk Mountain,” he said.

Juliet Browne, of Dana Verrill LLP, representing TransCanada, said the fact the company had eliminated four turbines in the more environmentally sensitive areas, demonstrated its desire “to mitigate environmental impact.” She also explained LURC needed to consider that these 11 turbines are located in the “expedited wind permitting area” designated in 2009 Wind Energy Act.

Christine Cinnamon, TransCanada Environmental Manager, said the successful development of Kibby should be considered in making the decision here. “We didn’t screw up on Kibby, and we won’t screw up here,” she said.

Commissioner Edward B. Laverty said this has been a “really, really hard decision,” because it would have an adverse effect on some of Kibby’s sub-alpine forests and Bicknell’s thrush, but not enough to warrant rejecting it.

“Trans-Canada is obviously very pleased that LURC recognizes the benefits of the Kibby Wind Power expansion project,” LeBlanc commented. “Our team put a lot of effort into site selection, environmental review and the mitigation of potential adverse impacts and we are looking forward to continuing our work here in Maine. There is still a lot of work to be done,” Altogether, the 55 turbines will represent a $90 million investment by the company.

Stratton Selectperson Jane Wilkinson said Stratton is very pleased with LURC’s decision because Kibby has been a huge plus for the town’s economy.