On Thursday, March 21, Commissioners of the Maine Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) will hear the landowner’s and developer’s appeals of DEP’s November 2012 denial of a permit for industrial-scale wind on Passadumkeag Mountain in Grand Falls Plantation, in eastern Penobscot County near the town of Burlington.
If you have time and inclination, Passadumkeag Mountain Friends, the citizens’ group challenging the proposed development, welcomes your interest and assistance. What follows is background on the project and reasons we hope BEP will uphold DEP’s decision. It’s useful if you wish to comment; otherwise, it’s probably TMI.
Quantum Utility Generation, a subsidiary of a Texas-based energy developer, had applied through its own subsidiary, Passadumkeag Windpark LLC, to install 14 Vesta wind turbines, each rising 459 feet, along five miles of the 1400-foot mountain ridge. Opponents raised a number of concerns, including wildlife habitat fragmentation, fire risk in a remote area, and negative impacts on four nearby lakes designated as having state or national significance.
Ultimately, DEP’s denial rested on a single factor: what their staff determined was an “unreasonable” negative impact on the scenic quality of the closest lake, Saponac Pond. This 900-acre great pond lies entirely within an 8-mile boundary surrounding the would-be wind development, and half the lake lies within a 3-mile boundary. All 14 turbines would be visible from most parts of the lake.
Saponac Pond was designated, in the 1987 Maine Wildlands Lakes Assessment, as a Scenic Resource of State or National Significance (SRSNS), including for “significant” scenic values. Indeed, what is most scenic about the Pond is its view of the beautiful, forested, gently rolling mountain.
However, the original application and the appeals have tried to portray Saponac Pond negatively—as little used by the public (not a valid criterion), and as degraded by the existence of camps and homes along portions of the shoreline; by the fact that the lightly trafficked Route 188 runs along the north shore; by logging operations and two radio towers on the mountain itself; and by the presence of an old sawdust pile on a small section of the northwest shore (the one remaining remnant of an old sawmill on the site). For all these reasons, the appeals argue, the lake itself is of little importance; thus, the scenic impact of wind turbines cannot be “unreasonable.”
Fortunately, DEP staff visited the lake in person, realized what a gem it is, and rejected the distorted, negative characterizations of the developer. Their decision to deny a permit affirmed the value and beauty of the Pond and recognized that they deserved protection.
How you can help:
Interested friends can help by attending the BEP hearing—9:00 a.m., Thursday, March 21, at the Augusta Civic Center. Citizens may or may not have an opportunity to speak following formal presentations by the appellants and DEP. To request that opportunity, contact BEP’s Executive Analyst, Cynthia Bertocci: 207-287-2452; or email a request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or you may send a letter to the BEP Chair, Commissioner Robert Foley (17 State House Station, Augusta 04333) asking the BEP to uphold DEP’s finding that the wind development would have an unreasonably negative impact on a valuable SRSNS, Saponac Pond.
Possible talking points:
1. First, please speak to the only issue that BEP can consider: whether the scenic impact on Saponac Pond would be “unreasonable.” For this hearing, other issues are outside their purview. Bringing them in anyway could impede BEP from giving full consideration to the many reasons why the visual impact would be unreasonable.
2. If you picnic, boat, fish, ice-fish, canoe, kayak, swim, or bird-watch on or in Saponac Pond, let BEP know. Note that they’re only concerned with protecting the public’s enjoyment of the resource, so telling about the pretty view from your dock won’t cut it. Only when you are on public property are you the public, so that means on the lake itself, driving by on Route 188, or at the Burlington town beach.
From those vantage points, you can see that existing development on the lake is modest; that the mountain has been protected from irresponsible forestry practices; that the sawdust pile is small, unobtrusive and not a pollutant; and that Route 188 traffic is light.
3. If you enjoy the lake, tell the Commissioners why and especially where you come from. The appeal tries to portray the lake as a purely local or regional resource, little used by people coming from other parts of Maine or even out of state—again, not “significant.” We know that’s untrue; be sure to let BEP know. You may also support DEP’s point that light use does not mean a scenic resource is unimportant; for some, that enhances its appeal.
4. We can request that the Commissioners visit the lake in person, as the DEP staff did. That more than anything will dispel the negative impression the appeal language tries to create.
5. Night lighting is a concern. The developer did not promise to install radar-activated lighting if FAA approves it, but only to “evaluate” such a system, in part for economic feasibility. It isn’t hard to imagine their review concluding that such a capability would not be economically feasible, and so night lighting at close range would add substantially to the scenic damage to the lake.
6. Finally, there’s the authoritative 2005 Brookings Institution study, “Charting Maine’s Future.” It argued that smart economic development in Maine requires protecting our incomparable quality of place, especially against the threat of haphazard rural development and sprawl. This is what draws visitors to Maine and makes people want to live here. The threat to Saponac Pond is a good example of what Brookings meant. It isn’t part of a thoughtful, well-designed rural development plan, and will significantly degrade part of what still makes Maine so special and worth protecting.
Thank you for your interest and for whatever you are able to do. For more information, email Passadumkeag Mountain Friends: email@example.com.