May 11, 2011

Opponents protest Highland Plantation wind plan

By Erin Rhoda, Staff Writer, Morning Sentinel, 11 May 2011

HIGHLAND PLANTATION – With mountains at their back, about 25 people gathered Tuesday to protest a possible wind development project they say would ruin their quality of life.

Developer Highland Wind LLC withdrew its application to the state Land Use Regulation Commission May 2 to spend more time addressing the development’s impact on wildlife. It plans to resubmit the proposal at a later date.

Residents on Tuesday said the application for 39 turbines should not be resubmitted.

“We, the majority of Highland residents, are demanding that Highland Wind LLC is not allowed to resubmit its application. We are asking (LURC) Chair (Gwen) Hilton and the honorable LURC commissioners to deny any application that includes the Highland Mountains and the surrounding mountains,” said Highland resident Rose Staton.

Twenty-one people in Highland – more than half of the community’s adults – signed a petition opposing the development, Staton said. There are 51 residents of Highland, according to 2009 Census information; several are children.

Tuesday’s press conference was held in the yard of Arlene and Steven Trudel, overlooking Stewart, Witham and Bald mountains and Briggs and Burnt hills – where the turbines are proposed. The land in Highland is fairly open, and many residents have picked homes for the mountain views.

People can see the mountains from their houses in several other communities as well, including Lexington and Concord townships and Pleasant Ridge Plantation. There are also separate turbine projects planned for the communities of Moscow, Bingham and Concord, Lexington and Mayfield townships.

Residents reiterated Tuesday what they have been saying since the initial permit application was submitted in Jan. 2010: If the project is approved, they’ll lose tourism dollars, property value, wildlife and see negative health effects from the whirring noise and “flicker effect” of the turbines.

“My family has a right to live peacefully in our home,” said resident Heidi Emery, surrounded by her children. “Highland is a plantation and so we have no voice here to object to developments such as this or to create moratoriums to protect the residents here. Our quality of place and even our health rests in the hands of LURC.”

Patrice Drummond, who owns Claybrook Mountain Lodge in Highland with her husband, Greg, said, “The value of our lodge will be hugely diminished if we are surrounded by nearly 500-foot tall, lit towers. If (the lodge) will sell at all, it won’t be at the price needed for sending us into old age supported by 30 years of investment and labor.”

Supporters of wind energy development have said it will boost the economic stability of the region and provide a renewable source of energy able to reduce people’s dependence on foreign oil.

Developer Highland Wind has offered $6,000 in energy efficiency grants to Highland households, plus more than $1 million for conservation acquisitions in the Bigelow Preserve area.

Highland Wind, operated by Independence Wind and led by former Gov. Angus King and former Maine Public Broadcasting Corp. president Rob Gardiner, has withdrawn its application from LURC twice: in April 2010 until they could demonstrate ownership of all the property they planned to use, and again recently to account for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s concern about species such as the northern bog lemming and Roaring Brook mayfly.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Gardiner said he does not yet know when the company plans to reapply or how it plans to address the project’s impact on wildlife. More studies may need to be completed.

“We were under the impression our project was viewed as having acceptable impacts until the last minute when we were told it had unacceptable impacts,” Gardiner said. “I don’t know what the method of dealing with these issues is going to be.”

He questioned the validity of the petition in Highland, saying it may have been a biased way to gauge opinion.

“There’s a real problem of people feeling uncomfortable when they’re put under pressure like that to express an opinion,” he said. “We find it’s much healthier to have secret ballot.”

He emphasized that the development work will continue. “We remain optimistic that we can make this large, clean-energy producer come to being in Maine,” he said.

“If we’re saying no to wind, what are we saying yes to?” said Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, who was contacted by phone. “If you continue to say no to every project, that means more natural gas, more coal and more oil.”

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