State board to rule on Passadumkeag Mountain wind project appeal

Posted March 20, 2013, at 8:36 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A wind developer will present arguments Thursday that the state’s top environmental agency was wrong to deny a permit for an industrial wind site atop Passadumkeag Mountain because it would spoil scenic views, officials said Wednesday.

The Board of Environmental Protection will hear appeals filed by Passadumkeag Windpark LLC and landowner Penobscot Forest LLC. They are appealing Maine Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho’s rejection of the plan to build a 14-turbine site on the mountain.

The Augusta Civic Center will host the hearing at 9 a.m., DEP spokeswoman Samantha Warren said. A board ruling will likely occur.

The developer believes that DEP staff “made a mistake” when it recommended against issuing the permit in November and is asking the board to take “a fresh look” at the project. Warren said Wednesday that staff is confident in its judgment.

“The evidence presented with the application, including the department’s own expert analysis, contradicts” the rejection, said Tom Swank, a Passadumkeag Wind Park LLC representative. “The department relied on a visual impact standard that does not exist in Maine law and that is counter to the Maine Wind Energy Act.

“In response to our appeal, the DEP has provided the Board of Environmental Protection its recommendations. The DEP admits that it erred and offers no new analysis, but still wants the board to deny the project,” Swank added.

Warren denied that staff erred and expressed confidence that the board will rule that the rejections follow state guidelines.

“We understand that applicants don’t like to be told no, but ultimately DEP is entrusted to review each application thoroughly and make our permitting decisions within the parameters of state standards,” Warren said.

The DEP decision said the developer met the majority of the department’s criteria for the project, including that it would not unreasonably harm any significant wildlife habitat, interfere with natural water flow, violate any state water quality laws or unreasonably cause or increase flooding to adjacent areas.

However, the ruling indicated the wind turbines would have a negative effect on the scenic nature of the lake. The views of Saponac Lake from the mountain are “one of a kind,” Warren said when Aho took the staff’s recommendation and issued the rejection in November.

The rejection was the first issued by the DEP regarding a wind project, Warren said.

Penobscot Forest and Passadumkeag Windpark officials argue that the criteria for the rejection was flawed, the project’s impact on the lake viewshed is overstated and that the decision adversely affects those companies.

The project would be visible from 97 percent of Saponac Lake and impact several other bodies of water nearby, Warren said.

“If the DEP’s decision is allowed to stand, it would set a dangerous precedent that will impact future projects, and damage Maine’s efforts to increase employment, reach its renewable energy goals, and attract new investments,” Swank said.

The board has never rejected a staff recommendation. Nor did the staff recommendation signal any sort of blanket statement on wind projects in Maine, Warren said.

“It is not a rejection of wind in general,” she said.

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