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LINCOLN, Maine — Even a late change of venue couldn’t keep approximately 150 concerned citizens from airing their thoughts on a proposed $136 million industrial wind turbine project in Carroll Plantation and Kossuth Township.
And just over a quarter of those citizens — 42 to be exact — attending Monday evening’s public hearing at the Ella P. Burr School’s Weatherbee Gymnasium signed up to say something about the proposal by Massachusetts-based First/Champlain Wind to build a 27-turbine facility on 700 acres on Bowers Mountain about 10 miles east of Lee in Carroll Plantation and Kossuth Township.
The hearing originally was scheduled to be held at Mattanawcook Academy but was moved to Burr School on Monday.
Issues ranging from health concerns to fire dangers, the financial viability of wind power, economic benefits to surrounding towns, employment, conservation and impacts on natural beauty and tourism were voiced by detractors and proponents alike before the seven-member Maine Land Use Regulation Commission.
Maine Audubon executive director Ted Koffman started things off by testifying in favor of the project, which calls for the construction of 10 Siemens 3.0-megawatt turbines and up to 17 Siemens 2.3-megawatt turbines on top of the 1,127-foot mountain with a maximum energy output of 57 megawatts.
“Our staff has carefully reviewed the Bowers application and has concluded there are no significant wildlife issues, aside from potential impacts to bats that are of concern,” said Koffman, who proposed raising the “cut-in speed to 5 meters per second from a half hour before sunset to a half hour after sunrise to reduce bat mortality.”
Camp owner Susan Cohen of Raymond wasn’t swayed by the support of Maine Audubon or the Maine Renewable Energy Association, which backs the project because it “offers Maine a chance to jump-start its economy.”
“When is enough enough?” Cohen asked the five commissioners present. “We’re ruining our beautiful ridge lines, destroying animal habitats and discouraging tourism.”
People from all walks of life, from master Maine Guides to town officials, testified on the pros and cons of this project before LURC commissioners Gwen Hilton (chairwoman), James Nadeau, Toby Hammond, Edward Laverty and Sarah “Sally“ Farrand. Commissioner Rebecca Kurtz was not present for the public hearing and commissioner Steve Schaefer has recused himself from the hearings and an expected formal vote in the fall because of his standing as a Grand Lake Stream resident and his close proximity and relationships with people on both sides of the issue.
Marilyn Roper, a Houlton resident who owns an acre of land on Sand Beach, is also opposed, primarily because she isn‘t convinced of the overall economic viability of wind turbine power.
“Overall, we have a wind scam going on in Maine,” she said. “If this keeps up, very soon, we will lose the moniker of Vacationland.”
One camp owner mentioned the fact that he cannot even repaint his camp a different color, let alone install a blinking red light — a reference to the lights installed atop wind turbines — on top of his roof, which is required by law to be no more than 25 feet in height, as opposed to the 400-foot turbines.
While the overall tenor of the three-hours-plus hearing was civil and respectful, things became a bit contentious a couple of times.
Illinois resident Deanna Sainati talked about how her home state is known for being very windy and for having some dishonest politicians, referring to “things getting greased,” a remark that drew a round of loud applause. She said her state has many wind turbine projects in place and hopes commissioners are not going to allow the same thing to happen in Maine.
Sainati’s remark expressing her hope that commissioners are not able to be swayed by bribes drew a response from one of the commissioners.
“I have to take offense at that remark because we are unpaid members of this commission and we are simply trying to do the best job we can for the state of Maine and its people,” Laverty said, drawing a round of applause from many of the people sitting before the commission.
Cathy Johnson, North Woods project director and senior staff attorney for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, testified before the commission, but neither for nor against the project.
“We have concluded that it is a very close call whether the proposed project meets the legal criteria regarding the effect of the proposed project on scenic character and related existing recreational uses,” Johnson said. “It appears that there will be very adverse impacts on some scenic resources and related existing uses of statewide significance and adverse impacts.
“We encourage the commission to keep in mind both the potential benefits provided by, and overall need for, a source of clean, renewable energy and the specific adverse impacts that would be caused to nine significant or outstanding scenic resources of state significance and existing uses of those resources.”
Two residents of Carroll Plantation voiced support for the project, citing economic benefits.
“This means a great deal to us,” said Clarence Thompson. “It will benefit our town immensely.”
In all, 42 people testified before the commission with sentiment running roughly two-thirds against and one-third for the project. Public comment was limited to five minutes for each person.
Commission members toured the proposed turbine site early Monday.
The commission will conduct a technical session for the applicant (Champlain Wind) and intervenors (Lincoln) in Lincoln on Tuesday and in Bangor on Wednesday. A formal commission vote is expected in the fall.