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First Wind’s Bowers Mountain wind project to be denied

Grass roots opposition defeats Maine’s largest wind energy developer.

The Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) voted today not to allow First Wind Holdings, LLC of Boston to withdraw its application for the Bowers Mountain Wind Project [opening the way to a denial]. The project would have erected 27 forty-three story tall turbines on prominent ridgelines in Carroll and Kossuth, adjacent to the headwaters of the Downeast Lakes. This area has been a magnet for sporting tourism for more than a century. It is home to the Village of Grand Lake Stream, the state’s premier salmon hatchery, and is the birthplace of the square-end canoe known as a Grand Laker. LURC also directed its staff to complete the permit denial document as had been decided at their October 2011 meeting. The final denial vote will take place at 9:30 a.m. on May 4, 2012, at the Washington County Community College in Calais.

The Partnership for the Preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed (PPDLW) has led the broad-based opposition to the project. The Maine Professional Guides Association, the Maine Sporting Camp Owners Association, and the Grand Lake Stream Guides Association also opposed this project.

“I could not be happier.” says PPDLW member Gary Campbell. “It’s been a long arduous battle, but the natural beauty of the Downeast Lakes Region is well worth fighting for. Today’s vote shows that Maine is not willing to sacrifice this magnificent natural resource for a few megawatts of expensive and intermittent wind energy.”

After a long and well documented process that included a site visit, lakes tour, three days of formal public hearings, and three deliberation sessions, a straw poll taken in October showed the Commissioners in unanimous agreement that the project would have an unreasonably adverse scenic impact on a number of significant paddling and fishing lakes, and consequently the numerous sporting camps, lodges, professional guides, and ancillary support businesses that are the lifeblood of the area. The Commission instructed LURC staff to prepare a denial document.

Facing an imminent denial, the applicant, through lead counsel Juliet Browne of Verrill Dana, filed a request several weeks later that they be allowed to withdraw the project application. After much deliberation, the LURC board tabled the request to withdraw, but did agree to give the applicant some additional time to reconfigure the project. Interveners in the case argued that the applicant was simply venue shopping. In the end, the LURC Commissioners awarded the applicant an additional 90 days to reconfigure the project in hope of mitigating the project’s scenic impact, while expressing serious reservations that it could be mitigated at all. The applicant assured the Commission that 90 days would be enough time and that they would bring back a formal outline of a reconfigured project by March 9th.

Twenty minutes prior to expiration of the deadline, the applicant submitted a letter stating that “[First Wind] is not able to present a particular reconfigured project to the Commission at this time.” The letter then repeated the earlier request that they be allowed to withdraw the Bowers application. At today’s meeting LURC voted to officially deny First Wind’s request to withdraw and directed its staff to resume preparation of the application denial document. The denial is now scheduled to become official by Commission vote on May 4, 2012.

The Scenic Downeast Lakes Region encompasses more than two dozen lakes including Pleasant, Shaw, Scraggly, Junior, West Grand, Pocumcus, Bottle and Keg Lakes. The turbines of the proposed Bowers Mountain Wind Project would have been visible from 11 lakes that are officially recognized as Scenic Resources of Statewide Significance, two of which boast Maine’s highest designation as “Outstanding for Scenic Quality” (Pleasant Lake and West Grand Lake).

PPDLW’s President, Kevin Gurall explains, “The Scenic Downeast Lakes Region has a long, rich history of providing a wilderness experience to visitors and sportsmen from all over the world. Celebrities from Ted Williams and Jimmy Doolittle, to Presidents and foreign heads of state, as well as multiple generations of families have been coming here for well over 100 years to enjoy this network of clean, largely undeveloped lakes. The guiding tradition on this watershed can be traced back to the 1850’s. We have 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th generation professional guides who stitch together a living providing sportsmen with an outdoor experience that leaves them with memories for a lifetime. Never mind that this type of experience is becoming rare in Maine, there aren’t many places like this left in the entire continental U.S… and that’s why it’s so important that we protect it so future generations will have the opportunity to make their own memories of the wilderness character and scenic magnificence that is the Downeast Lakes Watershed. He added, “Those memories need not be ruined by an industrialized landscape … there have to be better solutions to our energy issues than defacing our treasured lake shore landscapes and our mountains. Tourism is our largest industry in Maine and employs more than 140,000 people. That’s much too important to risk for the mere trickle of high priced energy that’s generated by these wind projects.”

“Although PPDLW sounded the initial alarm, this was a grassroots effort by more than 300 citizens. People from the immediate area, from all corners of Maine and beyond worked together for nearly three years to defeat this project. It’s a true David vs. Goliath story. Fortunately, we had common sense, truth, and the state’s scenic impact regulations on our side.”

Kevin Gurall, kevin/ppdlw.org
Gary Campbell, gary/ppdlw.org