AUGUSTA, Maine – A 14-turbine wind project proposed for Passadumkeag Mountain won new life Thursday when the Board of Environmental Protection overturned a state decision to reject the project.
The citizen board, which met Thursday at the Augusta Civic Center, voted 5-1 to overturn a previous decision by the department.
At issue is a November 2012 decision by the Department of Environmental Protection to deny a permit for an industrial 14-turbine wind site atop Passadumkeag Mountain. While the department found that the applicants for the project, Passadumkeag Windpark LLC and landowner, Penobscot Forest LLC, met most of the standards required by the Maine Wind Energy Act, Commissioner Patricia Aho ruled against it because of the visual effect it would have had in the area. Aho said in a press release after Thursday’s decision that she is worried about the process as the state considers more applications.
“Our agency is entrusted to review each site on its individual merits within the parameters of the state’s standards,” said Aho. “Sometimes we need to say no and the board’s vote today calls into question whether we can truly do that when it comes to mountaintop wind development. I stand fully behind our licensing staff’s decision that this was the wrong project for this special place.”
Attorneys for the applicants argued that the Department of Environmental Protection broke from previous precedent and ignored a range of reports and data that determined the area around the proposed development, notably Saponac Pond, is not of adequate environmental or scenic significance to justify the department’s rejection of the wind power application.
P. Andrew Hamilton, an attorney representing Penobscot Forest LLC acknowledged that the 14 proposed wind turbines on Passadumkeag Mountain would have a visual effect, but so does virtually every wind project.
“Simply because the project is a highly visible feature on the landscape can’t be a sole deciding factor on the application,” said Hamilton. “The ridge lines are where the wind resource is. … We do not seek special treatment. We do seek fair, consistent and equitable treatment under existing standards.”
Hamilton and others, who presented more than three hours of testimony Thursday morning during a hearing at the Augusta Civic Center, used several other wind farm permits previously granted in Maine as evidence that visual effects alone shouldn’t scuttle projects, especially in areas that are not widely recognized as pristine or iconic.
“It’s possible that you had not heard of Saponac Pond before this proceeding,” said Hamilton. “I live in Penobscot County a few miles from Saponac Pond and I had not heard of it. Saponac Pond is not outstanding or significant.”
The developers contend that the visual effect standard that was the basis for Aho’s decision was flawed and the project’s effect on the pond’s viewshed is overstated.
But DEP staff who testified at Thursday’s hearing said the wind turbines would be visible from 97 percent of the pond and that Passadumkeag Mountain represents the dominant natural feature in the area.
“Passadumkeag Mountain, while not a scenic resource of state or national significance in itself, rises 1,250 feet above Saponac Pond,” said Mark Bergeron, director of the DEP’s Division of Land Resource Regulation, during Thursday’s hearing. “The department concluded that the construction of this project would represent a significant change to the visual character of Saponac Pond.”
Some argued that if the Board of Environmental Protection’s upheld the denial that could set a long-term precedent that would make future wind developments difficult to permit.
Katherine Joyce, an attorney representing Passadumkeag Windpark LLC said the outcome of Thursday’s hearing was of “paramount importance.”
“It would be precedent-setting,” said Joyce. “Today’s decision has the potential to control the future of wind development in Maine. Turbines have the potential to impact every landscape in which they’re built. The impact of the turbine would be adverse, no question. But the question is this: Is the impact unreasonably adverse?”
Joyce said the board’s decision could have a chilling effect on other proposals.
“Stand in the shoes of a developer for a moment,” said Joyce. “No developer sets out to propose a project that does not satisfy the standard. Passadumkeag Windpark LLC was no different.”
Watch bangordailynews.com for updates.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding