MACHIAS, Maine — The Washington County commissioners unanimously threw their support behind a new project by First Wind, the state’s largest wind power developer, to expand its Stetson Mountain project to Bowers Mountain.
First Wind is proposing a 700-acre, 26-turbine wind farm about eight miles south of the Stetson Mountain project. The new area will straddle the Washington and Penobscot county border and is just north of Pleasant Lake in Kossuth Township.
First Wind will submit a permit for the project to the state’s Land Use Regulation Commission this fall.
But while the commissioners favor the project — and the $40 million in new valuation it will bring to boost tax revenues — Chairman Chris Gardner expressed deep dismay about the process and its limitations.
When the Stetson Mountain project was constructed, Washington County created a tax increment financing district, with the proceeds to go toward future economic development. The money is used to fund grants and low-interest loans for commercial ventures.
But state law requires the funds to be used only in the unorganized townships, a restriction that has rankled the commissioners.
Gardner said that if First Wind were to ask for a TIF in the expanded area, the commissioners would say no.
“We would need to be able to put that money back into the county’s coffers to offset taxation,” Gardner said.
With more than $459,000 in the TIF grant account and only $147,000 in requests this year, Gardner said it was a shame that the excess couldn’t be applied to taxes this year as the county deals with a $750,000 budget shortfall.
“This illustrates the point that in a county that is suffering, we have a pile of money that we can’t use for taxation,” Gardner said. “First Wind is making a great investment in Washington County yet we can’t get past the fine points of bureaucracy.”
However, the commissioners were told that eight new proposals are being discussed to be funded through the TIF fund, and Dean Preston, Unorganized Territory manager, said he had another six he wanted to present before the end of the year.
One of his ideas was to fund cell phone towers in the Unorganized Territory that all Washington County residents could take advantage of.
Commissioner Kevin Shorey said he loved the idea. “No cell service is a hindrance here to business, to tourists and travelers. It’s a hindrance to everyone.”
Gardner said the county needed to get proactive and let businesses and entrepreneurs know that “Washington County’s UTs are open for business. If you have an idea that makes sense, and you are a private commercial business, come see us.”
The commissioners then approved the most recent grant of $49,500 to the Down East Lakes Land Trust to repair and upgrade trails and roads in Township 43. These roads link Route 9 with Grand Lake Stream and would expand public access to the area.
The commissioners also closed out a $480,000 Community Development Block Grant that was awarded to Coast of Maine, a Marion Township company that composts lobster waste for landscapers and gardeners. One job has been created, a second job will be added in the spring, and a new bagging facility was constructed.