ELLSWORTH, Maine — Concerned about getting the information they need to determine how a proposed commercial wind farm might affect the surrounding environment, members of the state Land Use Regulation Commission have asked other state officials to weigh in on a 19- turbine wind farm proposed for Township 16.
During a public hearing Monday night at the local Ramada Inn, LURC members were told that twice LURC staffers have asked Bureau of Parks and Lands to comment on how First Wind’s proposed project might affect the Donnell Pond public land reserve, which consists of more than 14,000 acres of forest and ponds in eastern Hancock County. Parts of the reserve are within half a dozen miles or so of where some of the 476-foot tall turbines would be located.
Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Donald Murphy, project planner for LURC, each told commission members that BPL declined to provide comments about how the Donnell Pond parcel might be affected by the project. Besides the 19 turbines planned for Township 16, the Bull Hill project proposed by First Wind subsidiary Blue Sky East is expected to include turbines in the neighboring town of Eastbrook. First Wind has not yet submitted a formal proposal to Eastbrook’s planning board.
Voorhees told the panel that views from mountain peaks in the reserve, including Schoodic and Black mountains, likely would be “significantly impacted” by the presence of the turbine towers. At 476 feet tall, which includes the vertical extent of the turbine blades, the turbines would be taller than the Penobscot Narrows Bridge observatory, which overlooks Bucksport.
“We encourage the commission to specifically solicit comment from BPL,” Voorhees told commissioners.
Commissioner Edward Laverty appeared surprised that BPL would decline to provide comments to LURC. He said that, as appointed citizens, LURC commissioners depend upon the expertise of other state agencies to be able to make informed decisions.
“We are lay people. We are not professionals,” Laverty said Monday night. “This isn’t a way to run a railroad, it seems to me.”
Laverty and fellow commissioner Sarah “Sally” Farrand agreed that LURC would specifically request that BPL comment on what the project’s affects on the Donnell Pond reserve might be.
Jeanne Curran, spokeswoman for the Department of Conservation, which includes both BPL and LURC, said Tuesday morning that BPL officials did not recall getting any such request from LURC staff. She said BPL is not equipped or charged with making that kind of analysis.
“BPL is not responsible for that type of assessment, nor does it have the expertise,” Curran said.
Curran added, however, that BPL would be happy to provide what information it could on Donnell Pond to LURC if it was asked to do so.
Aside from the issue of BPL comment on the Donnell Pond parcel, comments at Monday night’s public hearing ranged from some in favor of the project to some opposed to it. Some people said wind power development will help the environment by reducing fossil fuel emissions, while others said it will not have a significant impact on reducing fossil fuel usage.
Eastbrook resident Mary Ann John told commissioners that it would be wrong to “sacrifice” the rural nature of eastern Hancock County for a “short-term energy fix.” She said she also was concerned about the effects turbine noise would have on nearby people, and what kind of impact the turbines might have on wildlife.
“Our landscape and way of life will be forever changed,” John said.
Sullivan resident Bruce Munger spoke in favor of the project. He said wind power development would help reduce air pollution and the impact of oil spills such as the Deepwater Horizon disaster last year in the Gulf of Mexico.
“[Oil producing countries] have us over a barrel, literally,” Munger said. “Seeing a few machines in our backyard is not as bad as the many things that are killing us from afar.”
Approximately 60 people attended the hearing Monday night, with about the same number of people at the technical session Tuesday morning. Tuesday’s daytime session, also held at the local Ramada, was geared toward taking technical testimony from the applicant, intervenors and government agencies. LURC was expected to hear more public comment Tuesday evening, beginning at 6 p.m.
LURC will accept written public comments on the First Wind proposal for Township 16 until 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 31, according to Catherine Carroll, LURC’s director. Information on how to submit written comments can be found online at www.maine.gov/doc/lurc.