The tiny island of Monhegan off the coast of Maine is home to about four dozen people year-round. To get there, visitors have to take a ferry. The island is tranquil, and that’s the beauty of it.
Now residents wonder if a wind-power project proposed off the island’s coast could upset their quiet life and hurt tourism. While some support the 12-megawatt project, others are concerned the sight and sounds of two turbines will discourage visitors.
“It’s really one of those rare special places, like the Grand Canyon. You don’t mess around,” said Lucia Miller, who lives in her home on Monhegan in the summer and spends her winters in Evanston, Illinois
Maine Aqua Ventus, which includes the University of Maine and partner companies, hopes to get initial approval for a state contract next month to put the turbines 2 1/2 miles off the island’s shores.
The company says its project will provide cheaper electricity to the island, which has some of the highest rates in the country. It also claims the wind-powered generator will bring millions of dollars in investments to the state and create hundreds of new jobs.
“That is really a huge opportunity for an island that has a diminishing year-round population,” said Jake Ward, vice president for Innovation and Economic Development for UMaine.
The number of year-round residents has dropped from 75 to about 45 in the last decade and Monhegan Island’s economy is fragile, said Tara Hire, co-chair of the Monhegan Island Energy Task Force, which works with Maine Aqua Ventus on project-related issues.
Some have suggested the lower electric rates would allow the island to open up a lobster pound, which is too expensive to do now, Ward said.
But Hire wonders, as others do, if the benefit of lower rates might be outweighed by a decline in tourism because of obstructed ocean vistas and noise generated by the towers. They wonder if the island will lose jobs because the turbines would take up space in precious fishing grounds.
“Does that really pay for losing jobs and people living here?” she said.
Hire, who’s first assessor for the island and recently started a yoga business, said she doesn’t oppose the project, but wants to make sure Monhegan has a voice in the process.
Others, like Robert Smith, a task force member who lives in Monhegan during the summer and New York City in the winter, said the project might actually attract people to the island who want to see the turbines.
“There are many who just don’t want to see (Monhegan) disturbed at all,” he said. “It’s almost like saying that Monhegan exists in isolation. I really don’t hold to that because you really can’t be in isolation. You are part of the world.”
Ward said Maine Aqua Ventus will soon be posting pictures of what the turbines would look like from different locations on the island. It will also broadcast test sounds from the proposed site of the project so residents can hear what it will sound like on shore.
“We do care about this,” Ward said. “And it really is something that hopefully at least the year-round folks see an opportunity and a value from.”
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