ELLSWORTH, Maine — Opponents and supporters of a proposed commercial wind farm in Township 16 made their cases Tuesday to the Land Use Regulation Commission as the state board heard testimony at a local hotel about the First Wind proposal.
Tuesday night’s public hearing followed a full day of technical testimony during which First Wind subsidiary Blue Sky East and Concerned Citizens of Rural Hancock County, a group that is opposed to the project, each presented information to the commission.
Blue Sky East is proposing to erect 19 turbines, each 476 feet tall at the highest tip of a vertical blade, in Township 16. The company is planning to put more turbines in neighboring Eastbrook as part of the same project but has yet to submit formal development plans to Eastbrook’s planning board.
During Tuesday’s technical session and the evening public hearing, opponents raised concerns about the effect the presence of the turbines might have on nearby scenic assets such as the Donnell Pond public reserve and Narraguagus Lake. Witnesses who testified on behalf of the concerned citizens group suggested that not enough is known about how animals such as migrating birds might be affected and that bringing in heavy equipment to erect the turbines likely would harm adjacent vernal pools and wetlands.
“I really believe it is going to impact some of those vernal pools and wetlands along the side of the road,” environmental engineer Nancy O’Toole, testifying on behalf of Concerned Citizens of Rural Hancock County, told the commission.
Brooke Barnes of Stantec Consulting, which is assisting Blue Sky East on the proposal, told the commission that the developer intends not to disturb any vernal pools or wetlands. He said there will be fewer development impacts from the Bull Hill project because, unlike other wind turbine development sites, there already are access roads and transmission lines running through the area.
“I believe this project is very well-conceived and -designed,” Barnes said.
During the evening session, Bangor attorney Dean Beaupain testified on behalf of Lakeville Shores, a forestry firm that owns the land where Blue Sky East would erect the turbines. Beaupain said that Blue Sky East would lease approximately 100 acres from his client and the remaining 19,900 acres owned by the firm would continue to be used as forestry land.
“Under no circumstance do we consider it wilderness,” Beaupain said, countering claims that the land to be developed is in a purely natural state. “We grow trees.”
Beaupain said that for the past three years, heavy forestry equipment consistently has been going up and down the roads, which have existed for 50 years. He said Lakeville Shores is concerned with the possibility of decommissioning the site but has received assurances from Blue Sky East that there will be adequate funds for decommissioning the site if the wind farm is closed down for any reason.
Beaupain said if the project is approved, Lakeville Shores will not run its own equipment over the project roads while construction of the wind farm is taking place. He said the forestry firm, owned by the Haynes family of Winn, will continue to allow public access to its land not leased by Blue Sky East.
Duane Jordan, whose family owns land in Eastbrook that would be lased to Blue Sky East, also testified Tuesday night in favor of the project. Jordan said that he loves the woods and rural setting of eastern Hancock County but does not think the turbines would detract from the area’s scenery. He said wind power will help address the issue of rising and unstable fossil fuel costs.
“We feel this is a project for the future,” Jordan said. “We stand behind First Wind 100 percent.”
Others, however, made it clear they do not. Eastbrook resident Nancy Lowry, who lives on Macomber Mill Road, said she lives less than two miles from where the nearest turbine will be erected. She said she has not heard enough assurances that the turbines would not affect the health of nearby residents or harm local property values.
“I don’t want to move. I have a gorgeous property,” Lowry said. “I don’t want to be a guinea pig.”
Eastbrook resident Kathleen Donohoe, who lives just over the town line from where some of the Township 16 turbines would be erected, said she bought her 87-acre property on Sugar Hill Road in 2004 because she loved the rural setting. Having a 476-foot tall turbine towering over her property, she said, will have a permanent, negative effect on her property.
“It is an area that is teeming with wildlife,” Donohoe said. “[The turbines] can have a really negative effect, and it’s not something I want to live with.”
LURC director Catherine Carroll said Tuesday that LURC does not expect to hold any more public hearings on the proposal, though it will accept written comments until 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 31. The commission is expected to hold public deliberations on the matter, most likely in Bangor sometime in August, she said, and could vote on it as early as September.
Tuesday’s LURC session will not be the final public hearing on the matter, however. Hancock County commissioners have been in discussions with Blue Sky East on possible community benefit and tax-increment financing agreements associated with the Township 16 part of the project. According to county officials, a public hearing on those agreements, which are being negotiated, is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday, June 2, at the Hancock County Courthouse on State Street in Ellsworth.