Court upholds wind farm law

Posted March 11, 2010, at 8:14 p.m.

The state’s highest court on Thursday dealt the Friends of Lincoln Lakes a major legal defeat by reaffirming state approval of a $130 million industrial wind site intended for northern Penobscot County.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s unanimous ruling also upheld the constitutionality of a state law fast-tracking the permit process for Maine wind sites.

Click here to read the court’s decision.

Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills, whose office represented the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Board of Environmental Protection, said she was pleased with the decision.

Proposed by Evergreen Wind Power III LLC, the project is a 40-turbine industrial wind site intended for the Rollins Mountain ridgelines in Burlington, Lee, Lincoln and Winn.

Supreme court justices “are not there to rehash the facts or the credibility of expert witnesses,” Mills said Thursday, “so you have to get over a high hurdle to succeed [in an appeal] on this matter.”

The court agreed with none of the arguments of the Friends of Lincoln Lakes, Mills added.

“We always knew that this was a long shot,” Friends’ attorney Lynne Williams said. “The deference paid to the administrator’s decision making [in such a case] is great. If there was any evidence that supported that decision, the court would agree with it.”

In opposing the Evergreen project, Williams argued that the BEP’s determination that the project met applicable licensing criteria with respect to noise — and would minimize the effect on wildlife habitats — was unsupported by substantial evidence in the record.

The court disagreed.

“Contrary to [the Friends of Lincoln Lakes’] contention, the Board did consider the impact of the project on area wildlife,” the court’s ruling states. The judges found that the project “will not have an unreasonable impact on significant wildlife habitat under its rules.”

The court cited the board’s ruling requiring post-construction monitoring of the project’s sound and wildlife impacts as reasonable and also ruled that the state could reasonably use the fast-track law to develop alternative sources of energy, such as wind power.

“Though not required to do so, the Legislature has articulated a legitimate state interest in facilitating the rapid development of alternative, renewable energy sources,” Justice Donald Alexander wrote in the 19-page decision.

“The [DEP] went through a very thorough process of evaluating the issues and we think they did a comprehensive and appropriate job,” said Juliet T. Browne, an attorney for Evergreen. “Both the department and the board [of environmental protection] concluded that the project met all of the environmental criteria.

“There was plenty of due process,” she added. “There was a very comprehensive, open process before the DEP in which it considered the information submitted by the Friends of Lincoln Lakes.”

Ruth Birtz, Lincoln’s economic development director, said she hoped that the ruling would allow the project to get under way soon.

“We would like to see the project move forward and start seeing some of the economic development benefits of the project, including an increased work force, more jobs, an increased tax base, and more people utilizing the local hotels, lodging and restaurants,” she said.

Evergreen is a subsidiary of First Wind of Massachusetts. Though it won the appeal, First Wind will not be building the Rollins Mountain project anytime soon, its spokesman said.

The project, which is the first in the state contracted to supply Maine utilities with wind power at discount rates, needs investors before it can proceed, said John Lamontagne, First Wind’s spokesman.

The Friends have another appeal of the Rollins project pending with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

They are protesting a Penobscot County Superior Court judge’s ruling that the Lincoln Appeals Board was right to reject the group’s appeal of a Lincoln Planning Board permit issued to the project in 2008. That appeal will be heard in about five months, Williams said.

The Friends also are lobbying the Legislature and attending meetings to generate opposition to the Rollins Mountain project.

“It is a battle we are fighting on many different levels,” Williams said. “Not all of them are in court.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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