On Thursday, March 21, the Board of Environmental Protection will consider whether to uphold a 2012 Department of Environmental Protection denial of an industrial-scale wind development on top of scenic Passadumkeag Mountain. The denial was based on the department’s determination that the scenic impact of the project would be unreasonably adverse. The DEP deserves credit for applying this standard in law, and the BEP should uphold this decision.
In his March 18 OpEd in the BDN, “Let Turbines Stand on Passadumkeag Mountain,” Jackson Parker says that the DEP decision “threatens to undermine Maine’s attractiveness for investors.” That may be true for a small handful of companies with a financial stake in industrial wind development, such as Reed & Reed. For thousands of other Mainers, however, the decision represents hope that our state regulators are appropriately applying the standards in law.
Passadumkeag Mountain looms directly over Saponac Pond, a body of water that the state has identified as a “scenic resource of state or national significance.” This designation affords such bodies of water some extra protection, as wind developers must demonstrate that their respective projects will not result in an unreasonably adverse scenic impact.
I think wind energy advocates and foes alike would agree that this aspect of the law is imperfect, in part because it relies upon subjective assessments from consultants, developers and regulators, who try to determine the distinction between “adversely negative” and “unreasonably” so. Still, it is a test that must be met and in this case was not.
Nearly 300 passionate people attended a public information meeting on the project last fall, and not one person spoke up in support of the development. More than 300 area residents signed a petition opposing the project, and letters from two prominent members of the legislative delegation were read into the record urging the DEP to deny the development. And for good reason.
Although the Passadumkeag Wind LLC project would not be visible from the developer’s headquarters in Houston, Texas, it would be absolutely inescapable from anywhere on Saponac Pond and certainly considered “unreasonable” by many who enjoy the lake. In fact, a third party hired by the DEP to review the visual impact assessment stated that, “this project would dominate the views that many users would experience … it would add a distinct and unnatural form to this mountain landscape.”
The giant, 459-foot-tall towers would also be visible from three other bodies of water that the state has identified as “scenic resources of state or national significance”: Nicatous Lake, Lower Pistol Lake and Spring Lake. Several other lakes and ponds in the viewshed would also be adversely affected.
Parker has made his own appraisals about the area, stating that, “Saponac Pond is neither pristine nor undeveloped.” From Route 188, which passes by the north shore of the lake, it appears to be both — with little to no development in sight. He also states that Passadumkeag Mountain contains evidence of a working forest, with clear cuts and logging roads. But sustainable forestry is common in Maine, and the Natural Resources Council of Maine stated in their submitted comments that active forestry shouldn’t distract from the scenic quality of Passadumkeag Mountain.
There is a difference between regulatory stability and a rubber stamp. The DEP should be applauded for applying the standards in law. I encourage those who are interested in the outcome of this board ruling to attend the hearing at 9 a.m. Thursday, March 21, at the Augusta Civic Center.
Chris Jackson is a lobbyist based in Augusta. He does not represent any clients on this issue. He is a property owner near Passadumkeag Mountain.