LINCOLN — Police arrested five protesters Monday morning for blocking traffic to the $130 million Rollins Mountain wind project as part of what organizers called an attempt to halt the project’s potentially disastrous environmental impact.
Wearing bright orange ponchos that bore anti-windmill symbols, the protesters arrested at the 8 a.m. rally were slowly taken away by police after they had linked arms on a new access road onto Rollins and refused to allow construction vehicles to pass. The road was more than 100 yards inside the property owned by a subsidiary of Massachusetts-based First Wind.
Leonard Murphy, 59, of Woodville; James Freeman, 61; Donald Smith, 82, of Lincoln; John Waters, 49, of Greene; and Jessica Dowling, 29, of Thorndike were each charged with criminal trespass. They were taken to the Penobscot County Jail in Bangor and later released on a promise to appear in Lincoln District Court on Dec. 21, a jail spokesman said.
Monique Aniel of Roxbury was among 35 people from across Maine who attended the protest. She said she supported the Friends of Lincoln Lakes group’s opposition of the project, which calls for the installation of roads and of 40 turbines, each capable of generating 1.5 megawatts of electricity, on ridgelines in Burlington, Lincoln, Lee and Winn.
The Friends members “have exhausted every possible legal appeal that they could make in opposition to this project,” she said. “We hope that this protest can draw attention to the fact that their voices are not being heard.”
Though its legal battles continue, the group’s various appeals of the project to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Board of Environmental Protection, Maine Supreme Judicial Court, Lincoln planning board, Lincoln planning appeals board and planning boards of nearby towns have failed.
First Wind spokesman John Lamontagne called Monday’s protest regrettable.
“First Wind is pleased to move ahead with the Rollins Wind project and put people to work in northern Maine during a tough economy,” Lamontagne said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate a small group of renewable energy opponents have chosen to protest that, but we respect their rights to do so.”
“This project will put more than 200 people to work during construction and generate enough clean, renewable power for more than 24,000 homes in Maine,” he said. “We’re proud of that.”
The protesters said First Wind, which withdrew its initial public offering of stock two weeks ago, carries huge debt and is building a project that will decimate land values, threaten the health of residents with its turbine sounds and vibration, and be a blight on the pastoral beauty of the ridges. They said it would not be built in Maine if not for the tax breaks First Wind gets from the state and federal governments.
“This is just the beginning,” said protester Jonathan Carter of Forest Ecology Network, one of the groups that opposes First Wind’s windmills. “People are angry all across the state. They are especially angry at the federal and state governments for funding projects that continue to produce electricity that raises [Maine’s electrical] rates.”
“This whole thing is a scam,” he said of the Rollins Mountain project.
Project proponents have maintained that wind power is a safe, environmentally sound way to generate electricity and help wean the U.S. from its addiction to foreign oil. They said windmills benefit or have no impact on land values, provide construction workers who usually work only temporary jobs with another avenue of employment, create a much smaller pool of full-time jobs, boost local economies and increase the industrial potential of their host communities.
While hardly amicable, the protest was relatively peaceful. No physical violence occurred. Lincoln police and a group of more than 20 protesters held a peaceful conversation near the large lot adjacent to Route 6 while, about 150 yards away, the five protesters blocked the road. Dowling was carried off by police after she appeared to gently drop herself to the ground as they gripped her arms.
At times, one officer shouted at the crowd to move back and it did, though Brad Blake, spokesman for the Citizens Task Force on Wind Power, an umbrella group of 14 anti-windmill groups statewide, complained bitterly about a run-in he had with a police officer.
Blake went over and hugged Smith before the officer warned him to go back to the protest area, which police determined was within about 25 feet of Route 6.
“I find it extremely insulting that I came within two seconds of being arrested for hugging [Smith], who was getting arrested because he feels so strongly about the evils of [the project],” Blake said.
The rally cost local taxpayers about 20 hours of overtime for the five officers called in to handle it, Lincoln Town Manager Lisa Goodwin said. She said she would have appreciated it had rally organizers coordinated their efforts with town police before staging the rally.
“This is an example of some of the legitimate costs we incur that we have no control over,” Goodwin said.