Citizens group challenges DEP wind farm permit

Posted May 26, 2009, at 9:16 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:18 p.m.

A Lincoln-based property owner’s group is appealing a Maine Department of Environmental Protection permit issued for a $130 million industrial wind site on Rollins Mountain in Burlington, Lee, Lincoln and Winn.

The Friends of Lincoln Lakes charges in the appeal that DEP officials and project applicant First Wind of Massachusetts failed to fully consider the impact that noise, vibrations and light flicker generated by the 40-turbine wind farm would have on humans and wildlife.

“The impacts of industrial wind farms, particularly in residential zones, where this project is sited, is an ever evolving science of assessment,” according to the appeal filed with the Board of Environmental Protection, which oversees the agency. “It is troubling that the DEP would not wish to consider all relevant evidence.

“While the DEP considered this evidence as ‘preliminary and unrefined,’ it did not suggest that it was either invalid or unreliable,” states the appeal, which is dated May 21, but was made public by DEP officials Tuesday.

Attorney Lynne Williams of Bar Harbor, who represents the Friends group, said she hopes the board will grant Friends a hearing where all of the group’s evidence can be presented.

“We want to present a number of experts for them to hear from,” she said Tuesday.

John Lamontagne, a spokesman for First Wind, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment on Tuesday.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing First Wind’s application, company officials have said. Company officials also are seeking financing for construction, which they hope will start this year. No construction dates have been set.

Proponents have praised First Wind as a conscientious creator of wind power, saying the Lincoln Lakes project would create as much as 60 megawatts of pollution-free electricity in peak winds.

The Friends group contends that the turbines would lower land values and threaten human and animal health with light flicker and low-decibel sound; disrupt the pastoral nature of Rollins; and typically generate a fraction of their capacity.

DEP awarded the permit to First Wind on April 21. In its 64-page report on the project, DEP reviewers found “that the applicant has demonstrated that the proposed project will provide significant tangible benefits to the host community and surrounding area.”

The group argued its case to DEP, but the agency largely dismissed it for lack of evidence.

Of the two nonproject dwellings that will be affected by light flicker, according to the DEP report, one would see less than 17 hours of flicker a year. The second would get 40 hours annually “if no reductions occurred due to cloud cover, fog, wind direction, or vegetation.”

EnRad Consulting, a third-party evaluator DEP hired to review First Wind’s noise assessment, found that the company’s work “is essentially reasonable and technically correct according to standard engineering practices” and state regulations. It “yields reasonably conservative estimates for hourly sound levels,” the department’s report states.

EnRad rejected Friends arguments that turbine sounds and subsonic vibrations would disrupt sleep, saying that Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention “finds no evidence in peer-reviewed medical and public health literature of adverse health effects from the kinds of noise and vibrations associated with wind turbines other than occasional reports of annoyances.”

If the group is denied a full public hearing, the board likely will hear the appeal at a future meeting, Williams said. No date has been set.

The group’s civil court appeal of a Lincoln Appeals Board decision is still pending, Williams said. The group seeks a rejection of the board’s February decision dismissing the group’s right to appeal the town planning board’s approval of the wind farm.

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