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Local organization files lawsuit to halt Sisk Mountain wind power project  

Credit:  Ben Hanstein | Daily Bulldog | November 27, 2012 | www.dailybulldog.com ~~

PORTLAND – A local environmental organization has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a bid to halt the construction of 11 wind turbines on Sisk Mountain in northern Franklin County.

The Friends of the Boundary Mountains, a conservation advocacy group focusing on the mountains of western Maine, filed the complaint in U.S. District Court in Portland. It specifically names the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and two senior members as the defendants, alleging the construction and operation of an 11-turbine project on the Sisk Mountain range would violate the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and that the Corps violated the Clean Water Act in approving a permit for the project, which is being developed by TransCanada Maine Wind Development Inc. In addition to asking for the permit to be voided, the suit asks the court to prevent the Corps from issuing any new permits to TransCanada relating to the Sisk Mountain project and reimburse the plaintiff for legal fees.

The Sisk Mountain project was presented as an expansion to the 44-turbine project on nearby Kibby Mountain and Kibby Range, which itself was approved by the then-Land Use Regulation Commission in 2008. In October 2009, TransCanada proposed a 15-turbine expansion on Sisk Mountain. LURC commissioners declined to support that project, specifically due to the locations of roughly half of the turbines. TransCanada redesigned the project, dropping four turbines and some access roads in the southern portion of the Sisk Mountain ridge, which had been deemed more environmentally sensitive and therefore controversial by LURC commissioners.

On Jan. 5, 2011, the LURC board voted to approve the redesigned expansion, running 11 turbines down the Sisk Mountain Ridge. The Friends of the Boundary Mountains, an intervening organization throughout the LURC deliberations, filed a petition for judicial review with the Maine Supreme Court a few weeks after that decision. That appeal was heard on April 5, 2012, at which time the law court sided with the commission’s decision and upheld the permit.

Construction had been slated to begin by January 2013, but TransCanada asked for and received a two-year extension to their permit, citing the extended approval and legal process that the project had undergone. It also cited, as a reason for the extension, that the project had not yet been granted a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit. Friends of the Boundary Mountains opposed the construction permit extension and, following its approval, appealed the decision. That appeal was denied by the commission in October 2012.

On Nov. 26, Friends of the Boundary Mountains filed its complaint against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with the U.S. District Court. The suit specifically names as defendants the Corps, Lt. General Thomas Bostick, the commander of the Corps, and Jay Clement, a senior project manager for the New England District of the Corps, who operates out of agency’s state office in Manchester.

The complaint makes three claims for relief from the court: that the Corps’ permit violates the Clean Water Act, that it violates the Migratory Bird Act and that it violates the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The complaint specifically cites the potential impact of the project on Golden Eagles and Bicknell’s thrush, claiming that Corps “failed to request that [the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] conduct an independent biological assessment, merely relying on TransCanada’s Eagle Study.”

The suit notes that while four of the more-controversial turbines were eliminated in the revised project, three are still located on the southern portion of the Sisk Mountain Ridge. That area, the complaint contends, “contains high value breeding Bicknell’s thrush habitat that would be unduly adversely impacted if the project is built.” The Corps failed to have the USFWS conduct a biological assessment on the species, the complaint notes.

The suit also claims that a female golden Eagle, named Virgil Caine, was confirmed in the Sisk area from 2008 through 2012, via telemetric data monitoring, and that there were three “historic nests” within a 10-mile radius of Sisk. As such, the complaint contends, the Corps should have required a USFWS biological assessment, rather than accepting TransCanada’s own study on eagle populations.

The Friends of the Boundary Mountains are asking the court to void the Corps’ permit issued to TransCanada and reimburse the plaintiff for “attorney’s fees, costs and expenses in initiating and prosecuting this proceeding in the public interest…”

Source:  Ben Hanstein | Daily Bulldog | November 27, 2012 | www.dailybulldog.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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