June 18, 2018
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LURC hears pros, cons on rezoning for new wind project

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

LEE, Maine — Like Gov. John Baldacci, Gary Campbell says that in Maine, it’s all about the view.

A Massachusetts resident who owns a seasonal camp in Lakeville, Campbell struck an ironic note at a public hearing at Lee Academy on Wednesday by quoting the governor, arguably the state’s most influential fan of wind power, to fight a proposal that would allow an industrial wind site on hills visible from Pleasant and Trout lakes.

Campbell said that if the Land Use Regulation Commission allows the reclassification of nearly 700 acres of Washington County timberland as a fast-track zone for industrial wind-site development, the commission would be creating a potential compromise of the goals it set in its own Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

Trout Lake is among 176 remote state ponds that LURC affords “special protection to maintain its remote status, natural resource value and the primitive recreational experience in a remote setting,” Campbell reminded LURC commissioners.

“To deny the petition doesn’t mean that Champlain Wind [LLC] can’t build their industrial facility on this parcel,” Campbell added. “It will mean that the commission recognizes the unique value of this area and places the burden of proof on the developer to make a strong case for rezoning this area as industrial.”

A subsidiary of First Wind of Massachusetts, Champlain seeks to build a 25- to 26-turbine facility on the border of Washington and Penobscot counties on Bowers Mountain in Kossuth Township just north of Pleasant Lake. LURC held the hearing to allow residents to speak out on the proposed rezoning. About 60 people at-tended.

The project is among four First Wind listed on its website Wednesday as operational or to be built in 2010. Contractors began land-clearing work Tuesday at Rollins Mountain in Lincoln, First Wind spokesman John Lamontagne said, but no wind turbine construction has been scheduled. The company hopes to begin installing turbines later this fall.

Back in Lee, Campbell was among several residents who opposed the turbines proposed for Kossuth Township, saying they would blight an extraordinarily beautiful area, compromise land values, threaten the health of nearby residents with their noise and vibrations and contribute little if any real economic value to the region.

Campbell said he quoted Baldacci from the governor’s Aug. 14 visit to the Height of Land overlook in Township D near Rangeley. Baldacci was there as part of groundbreaking ceremonies for a $2.9 million scenic byway reconstruction.

Campbell’s argument was answered by several construction workers, economic development and local government officials who said the rezoning and wind site would be a logical and reasonable extension of state plans to vastly increase wind-powered electricity generation, which also would create many jobs.

Washington County Manager Betsy Fitzgerald reminded commissioners that her county has the state’s highest unemployment, cancer and diabetes rates and the lowest average salaries.

Just eight miles from First Wind’s 55-turbine Stetson Mountain site, the proposed wind farm would bring more of the benefits Stetson’s construction provided, Fitzgerald said.

They include generous municipal funding created by tax breaks given to wind farms, lower tax rates caused by the value of such projects, more jobs for construction workers and electricians in building and maintaining the sites, environmentally friendly electricity that can lure more business to the area, and a cash infusion into the local economy created by the workers’ presence, she said.

Fitzgerald said the rezoning was “an opportunity to show that the [wind farm application] process will be more sensible and cost-effective.”

She called Champlain’s efforts “a win-win proposal for the county as a whole.”

A tradesman’s union representative also expressed support for the project, saying it would give the ailing construction market a shot in the arm. Others argued that the existing expedited zone area and township boundaries fell short of the lakes to protect their scenic value.

Peter Fisher, secretary of the Partnership for the Preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed, which opposes the zone change, said rezoning opponents have a better than 50-50 chance of winning.

The commissioners, who will not rule on the rezoning for several weeks, seem especially interested in the visual impact the project would have on the area, he said.

“But it’s political suicide to stand up against the jobs and the money that these things [wind sites] generate,” Fisher said. “We have had some interest from some [state] representatives, but it’s all about the numbers.”

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