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Be scientists, not politicians

The Department of Environmental Protection has shown it is incapable of fair play, as evidenced by its behavior with respect to recent industrial proposals. Apparently this agency finds no need to consult with the people who will be impacted by these projects and for whom it supposedly works.

The DEP is a regulatory agency that permits projects that affect the environment. No agency in Maine has faced anything like this explosion of wind power proposals for our mountains. What the DEP faces is perhaps the ultimate test for backbone and will to truly represent and protect our state! Now, more than ever, net effect analysis and benefit/impact assessments must be done to insure net benefits outweigh the impacts.

The DEP requests comments from sister agencies on all wind proposals. However, it is not required by law, nor has any inclination to conduct formal public hearings. The DEP would do well to recognize that there is enough conflicting evidence to warrant the public be heard in a formal hearing, not just a footnote in the departments public record.

For example, the Saddleback industrial wind proposal has sufficient agency input. On the other side, there are far more than ‘enough’ unanswered questions and well documented weaknesses in the plan to warrant a public hearing.

Along seven miles of project transmission-line corridor lie six perennial and 14 intermittent streams. These serve as historic habitat and spawning ground for numerous species of trout. 12 acres include historic and potential Atlantic salmon spawning grounds and nursery/habitat for their young. These streams support coldwater species, which are all supported entirely by natural reproduction. The applicants have not included sufficient protective construction practices along the intermittent stream crossings.

Miles of new transmission lines and wide, very steep roads change the hydrology and ecology of an area forever. We know that industrial strength herbicide will be sprayed on miles of power lines that cross streams, brooks, wetlands and springs.

The applicant claims that only 22 acres of land will be “developed”, or permanently cleared, out of an estimated 125 acres that will be impacted during construction. Really?

The developers claim only temporary or insignificant impacts to forest, wetlands and steams, so that “no undue or unreasonable adverse impact” on the environment appears to be the case. In fact, through LURC public hearings and testimony this was found not to be the case at all.
In the review material before the Department there is no mention of ‘edge effect’ or fragmentation from any agency at all.

Fragmentation occurs when roads, ditching and turbine pads subdivide or isolate specific habitats. A secondary consequence is edge effect, resulting in changes in the micro-climate of the forest; light, wind turbulence and soil moisture changes increase the degree of edge effect and the overall cumulative impact of the project. At the Kibby complex, even at lower elevations, the edge effects are at least double what were predicted. Re-vegetation on Kibby has amounted to some invasive species, raspberries and grasses. Is this what we are supposed to accept as reclaimed forest? At the Sisk hearings these issues were addressed and debated extensively.

Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife suggested the cut in or turbine start up wind speed for operating turbines be increased to 5 meters per second. This will significantly decrease turbine caused fatalities for bats. They don’t hunt above this wind speed. This higher cut in wind speed would be employed from April to October.

The project manager of Patriot Renewables reviewed IFW’s comments and said it would have a negative effect on the project economics, and besides, the wind project provides indirect benefits to wildlife. Really?

Hoary and the Silver haired bats have already been directly impacted by most of the industrial wind facilities built in Maine. In addition, White Nose Syndrome, a deadly fungus, has killed over 1 million bats in the west and is moving this way. Add to this the number of bats killed while hunting insects drawn by the lighting and heat of the nacelles. Does the applicant factor any of this into their assessment? No. Did the DEP ? No.

Shouldn’t this be debated in public, at a hearing? Don’t we, the public, have a right to be heard in a formal setting and to have issues disclosed so we can participate in the decision process? Does the DEP even ask about production numbers? LURC requested numbers from the Kibby series. TransCanada claimed premier wind at Kibby, but the installed capacity is only 31.8 percent of rated capacity. Projected production numbers should be disclosed and count for something in the decision process.

Where is the tipping point to address cumulative impacts of any kind? Whether it is one project or a cluster of industrial wind facilities, who is addressing cumulative impacts to individual species, waterways, watersheds, forest and wildlife? The Peregrine Falcon, and Bald and Golden Eagle face significant cumulative impacts due to the number of projects located or proposed within their range.

Bureau of Parks & Land urged DEP, with respect to Scenic Value, to “listen closely to public input, since public input on “reasonableness” is as valuable as agency input.” It notes multiple jurisdictional impacts to multiple significant BPL viewpoints. Really? DEP denied the public a hearing to debate scenic value and visual impact.

The most important point made at the Sisk hearings is that the Wind Energy Act does not trump the Comprehensive Land Use Plan, and that our loss of scenic value is not a gimme to the greater good, as Peter Mills suggested. Our quality of place is being attacked one mountain at a time. Our natural resources are our future and our economy, way beyond the 20 years the turbines will be there.

I personally do not want the DEP dismantled or given less authority. In fact, I want our state agencies to represent OUR best interest, not the developer’s. I worked for a state agency and my boss had a saying on the bulletin board I feel is very appropriate for today’s political climate in Maine.

“Tyranny is rule by a single authoritative entity, be it an individual or a group, for the good of itself rather than the good of those ruled.”

Is the Department of Environmental Protection in existence to pave the way for corporate industrial development or to protect the State of Maine through sound science and good judgment? Be scientists, not politicians!

Nancy O’Toole is an Environmental Scientist who lives in Phillips.