An environmental group that has battled against the Bingham Wind Project in Somerset County has abandoned its appeal of the state licensing of the project, clearing the last regulatory hurdle in the way of construction of the $398 million project.
Withdrawal of the appeal filed by Friends of Maine’s Mountains means that the project’s owner, Blue Sky West, can build a 56-turbine wind farm in Bingham and nearby communities.
David Lourie, an attorney for FMM, filed formal notice with the state Board of Environmental Protection that the group was withdrawing its appeal of the decision by the state Department of Environmental Protection to grant the license.
The BEP was scheduled to take up the appeal of DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho’s August decision to grant the license for the project at a hearing Thursday. The board no longer is scheduled to discuss the issue.
“Because the Bingham Wind Project is no longer pending before the board, it has been removed from the board’s meeting agenda,” said a statement from the BEP’s executive analyst, Cindy Bertocci.
“Withdrawal of the appeal means that the commissioner’s decision approving the Bingham Wind Project stands,” Bertocci said.
“Friends of Maine’s Mountains has invested two years and significant resources opposing First Wind’s Bingham Wind project,” FMM said in a statement. “Given the (Department of Environmental Protection’s) decision – the project has its license – and the dim prospects of overturning that decision on appeals to the BEP and to the courts, we want to make sure that if the project goes forward, its impacts are minimized and some positive results are secured.”
The BEP staff already had drafted a decision upholding the department’s ruling that the wind farm should be licensed. The proposed 56-turbine wind farm originally won DEP approval in September and since then also has won approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Friends of Maine’s Mountains said that it still hopes to have some influence on the issue.
“FMM will work outside the appeal process to advance those long-term objectives. We are not able to comment further at this time,” the group said in a statement.
Rand Stowell, the president of Friends of Maine’s Mountains, did not return calls for comment on the withdrawal late Wednesday.
Stowell and FMM’s secretary, Chris O’Neil, have agreed to resign their posts with the group to settle conflict-of-interest issues raised by the attorney general’s office that centered on FMM accepting an offer to settle a lawsuit aimed at another wind energy project.
Friends of Maine’s Mountains has claimed that Blue Sky West fell short of required state standards for proving the financial capacity to operate and ultimately decommission the Bingham project. Their appeal also criticized the Department of Environmental Protection for not evaluating properly the scenic impact of the wind farm or its effect on wildlife.
The Bingham Wind Project calls for placing turbines in the town of Bingham and neighboring communities Mayfield Township and Kingsbury Plantation.
In the draft decision, the board ruled that First Wind Holdings, the parent company of Blue Sky West, has proven financial capacity and currently has more than $2.1 billion in assets. The draft decision also stated that scenic character was evaluated using criteria set forth in the Wind Energy Act and that there are no scenic resources of state or national significance within eight miles of the project, the standard set by the Wind Energy Act.
First Wind has community benefit agreements set up with Bingham, Moscow, Abbot, Parkman and Kingsbury Plantation that fund annual payments to each community based on the number of turbines that will be built. Under the agreement, Bingham will receive $106,900 per year, and Kingsbury Plantation will receive $176,000 per year for the next 20 years.
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