CARROLL PLANTATION, Maine – A First Wind subsidiary will try again to build an industrial wind site on Bowers Mountain, this time proposing to erect 16 turbines instead of 27, company officials said Wednesday.
The new project, company officials said, answers problems that led the Land Use Regulation Commission to reject the initial plan in April. Under the new proposal, turbines would be farther from nearby lakes. The towers would feature radar-controlled aviation warning lights to reduce light pollution and carry turbines that generate 30 percent more electricity than previous models.
First Wind of Massachusetts or its subsidiary, Champlain Wind LLC, also will create a watershed fund – money that could be used to improve the deer herd and promote local guiding and other tourism businesses, officials said.
“This is a $100 million project that would be located in rural Maine and has the potential to put nearly 100 Maine companies and hundreds of Mainers to work during the construction phase, with several permanent positions for the life of the project,” said Matt Kearns, First Wind’s vice president of Northeast business development. “The wind industry has invested more than $1 billion in Maine over the last few years and with projects like this we can continue to invest in Maine companies, communities, students and organizations.”
“Since 2009 we have been listening to people who live in and around the project area to make sure that their input is considered in the design of the project,” said Neil Kiely, director of development for First Wind. “Although it is early in the review process, we are extremely encouraged by the support we have received.”
Located east of Lee and southeast of Springfield near Route 6, Bowers Mountain is 1,127 feet. It overlooks seven lakes – including Bottle, Keg, Duck, Junior and Scraggly lakes – near the western Washington and eastern Penobscot county lines.
Its surroundings include some of the most sensitive wildlands in Maine, project critics have said. The mountain is home to many varieties of wildlife as well as thriving camping, hunting and wildlife guide industries.
About 144 residents reside in the proposed host community of Carroll Plantation. Recently, 112 residents and landowners signed a petition in support of the project, company officials said.
Now called the Land Use Planning Commission, LURC voted 5-0 with little fanfare to accept a staff recommendation and reject the 27-turbine project during a brief meeting April 20 at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel in Bangor. Commissioner Robert Dunphy abstained.
Commissioners said they were swayed by arguments that the project would have a punishing effect on hundreds of nature guides and other tourism-based industries employing hundreds more indirectly that all depend on the area’s beauty to survive.
The commission’s scenic consultant said that Champlain Wind’s consultants downplayed the project’s impact upon the region. In their 27-page decision, commissioners said they relied heavily on testimony from the area’s guides that the turbines “would reduce the likelihood their clients would want to return to the area and thus [the turbines would] adversely impact their businesses.”
Anti-wind-power advocates and residential groups that had opposed the project called the LURC vote their most significant win since they started fighting projects proposed by First Wind of Massachusetts about five years ago.
“It’s a good day. We have been fighting this for a long time,” David Corrigan, a registered Maine Master Guide from Concord Township who opposed the project, said on April 20. “This sets a great precedent. The commission spent a lot of time discussing and looking at this. I think it sets a precedent as far as how these projects should be scrutinized and what the results should be.”
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has accepted the new, or second, application, spokeswoman Samantha Depoy-Warren said. The agency certified the application as complete on Oct. 25. Environmental protection officials are required to have two public hearings on the project. One hearing will be attended by the agency’s commissioner or deputy commissioner, Depoy-Warren said.
Under new state laws passed during the last legislative session, the DEP and LUPC will review the project concurrently, with LUPC certifying to the DEP that the project meets LUPC criteria, LUPC Director Nick Livesay said. The DEP will issue the project’s final permit, if the project qualifies, he said.
First Wind claims endorsements for the project from the Maine Audubon Society, American Lung Association of the Northeast, Conservation Law Foundation, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, and the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club. The project has also been endorsed by the Washington County commissioners and the Sunrise County Economic Council, officials said.
One of the project’s opponents, Lakeville resident Gordon Mott, expressed doubt Wednesday that the new proposal would change his opinion. He credited the company with scaling back the project’s footprint but said he didn’t see enough conservation benefits in the new effort to warrant his support.
Mott cautioned, however, that he had not seen the proposal in detail.
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