High court to hear wind project case

Posted Jan. 26, 2010, at 9:30 p.m.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments from a Lincoln-based residents group next month on why First Wind of Massachusetts should not be allowed to build a $130 million industrial wind site on Rollins Mountain, officials said Tuesday.

The court will hear arguments in Portland at 1:45 p.m. Feb. 10 both for and against the Maine Board of Environmental Protection’s decision to support the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s permit approval of the proposed 60-megawatt facility in Burlington, Lee, Lincoln and Winn in April.

The Friends of Lincoln Lakes group, which opposes the development, is expected to argue, among other things, that:

— The board’s determination that the project met applicable licensing criteria with respect to noise, and would minimize the impact on wildlife habitats, is unsupported by substantial evidence in the record.

— The state law allowing appeals of board decisions to go directly to the state supreme court is unconstitutional.

The group’s attorney, Lynne Williams of Bar Harbor, said she wasn’t surprised that the board reaffirmed the DEP permit approval.

“In documents we have gotten, the state has really shown that it has been of a mind that any noise from one of these [projects] is merely an annoyance, and I think they are doing a real disservice to the people of this state when they do that,” Williams said.

In her 27-page brief filed with the court on Nov. 30, Williams cited notes from an internal conference call at DEP in March, which she acquired as she prepared the group’s appeal, in which the DEP’s own peer reviewer stated that he “has issues with [the] model being used.”

The DEP issued the project a permit despite the reviewer never reconciling his expressed concerns with his ultimate approval of the project, Williams said.

Low-decibel sounds or vibrations are allegedly the primary cause of “wind turbine syndrome,” or “acoustic radiation,” in which people have claimed to suffer symptoms — including nausea, back problems, mood disorders, seizures and heart attacks — due to their proximity to turbines. Strobe effects caused by rotating blades cutting sunlight also contribute, opponents say.

First Wind attorneys and other project supporters say that claims regarding the syndrome are scientifically unsupported. Low-level sound or vibration standards and many scientific peer reviews are part of DEP regulations and low-level vibrations have been studied since the 1960s. Other health agencies, including the U.S. Cen-ters for Disease Control and Prevention, also find no harm associated with the low-level vibrations.

DEP regulations are adequate for wind site reviews, agency officials have said.

The Rollins Mountain project is a 40-turbine industrial wind site proposed for the Rollins Mountain ridgelines in Burlington, Lee, Lincoln and Winn.

The friends group contends 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.

First Wind has argued that its project meets or exceeds all state environmental requirements and that wind turbines have no adverse impact on land values. They say the Lincoln Lakes project would create as much as 60 megawatts of pollution-free electricity in peak winds while helping create many jobs in the area.

Under the state’s fast-track law, Williams has said, the friends group’s appeal must go to the Law Court, a requirement she called unconstitutional, as it denies appellants the opportunity to appeal to lesser courts first.

In October, the Maine Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved awarding a 20-year contract to First Wind Holding LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Evergreen Wind Power III LLC, that would make Rollins Mountain the state’s first wind farm to supply electricity to Central Maine Power Co. and Bangor Hydro-Electric Co., state officials said.

The friends group also has another appeal pending in civil court. The group’s second court action protests the Lincoln Board of Appeals’ refusal to hear the group’s appeal of a permit the Lincoln Planning Board issued to the proposed wind farm.

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