BANGOR, Maine – Groups representing wilderness guides and owners of sporting camps joined a well-established organization from Penobscot County on Thursday in asking Gov.-elect Paul LePage to impose a moratorium on permits for new industrial wind power farms.
A LePage spokesman said later that the governor-elect would do no such thing.
The coalition, which includes the Maine Professional Guides Association, the Maine Sporting Camps Association and the Partnership for the Preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed, is also calling for the repeal of a law enacted in the last legislative session called “An Act To Implement Recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force on Wind Power” that expedites wind power permitting.
“This law was put into play by Governor Baldacci in a moment of panic when gas prices were over $4 a gallon,” said Kevin Gurall, president of the lakes partnership, after a press conference announcing the coalition. “It was railed through under the guise of emergency energy legislation.”
David Farmer, deputy chief of staff for outgoing Gov. John Baldacci, said the wind power laws on the books are the result of a careful process that included a transparent task force and unanimous support in the Legislature. The development of on- and offshore wind power has been a marquee issue of Baldacci’s administration and a major focus of the Legislature in recent years.
“I’m surprised at their action,” said Farmer of the guides and sport camp owner associations. “I would think that they are the people who understand the need to revitalize the economy in rural areas, so you have jobs for people who live there all year long.”
While Farmer argued that wind power can help Maine both in terms of energy costs and job creation, Gurall and others said wind farms destroy Maine’s most precious asset: untouched wilderness. The guides association, in a written statement, warned state government of the “adverse economic impact” of wind farms.
“The unspoiled lands, waters and natural character of inland Maine’s landscape are what attract clientele to our association’s doorsteps,” reads the statement. “Unfortunately, industrial-scale wind power projects have far-reaching impacts well beyond the actual project site. Our current knowledge of the impacts that these wind farms may have on wildlife large and small is insufficient to provide comfort to those of us who depend on that resource for our economic survival.”
Dale Tobey, vice president of the guides association, said Thursday afternoon that his board deliberated over the decision for nine months before taking a final vote last week. Of most concern to the association was upsetting landowners whom the guides rely on for access to wilderness, he said.
“We believe strongly in the right for a landowner to do what he wants with his land,” said Tobey. “Most of us make our living on private land. Our customers don’t want to sit in a canoe and look at a windmill or have the roads to a mountaintop blocked. Maine has a brand. Scalping the top of a mountain range and putting up wind turbines is not our image.”
Gene Thompson, secretary-treasurer of the Maine Sporting Camp Association, said the decision to take a position on wind farms happened in October during a membership meeting.
“The vast majority were in favor,” said Thompson. “One of the things that the state of Maine has left is [its pristine image]. People come here for the panoramic views. Windmills, they’ve seen those at home.”
Farmer said the government is keenly aware of those issues.
“The government has always been committed to the appropriateness of site location,” he said. “You see opposition like this with any type of development, whether it’s a new factory or a new Walmart. There’s no difference between this and other developments except what it is. This ties the urban to the rural together and spreads opportunity.”
Dan Demeritt, spokesman for LePage, said unequivocally that the governor-elect would not place a moratorium on wind power development.
“The process is in place, and moratoriums is not how we intend to do business in Maine,” said Demeritt. “Once rules are established, businesses are going to be able to count on them, and they can expect the state to abide by them. There will be no moving targets in the LePage administration.”