Board delays final vote on Passadumkeag Mountain wind project

Maine Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho
Maine Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho Buy Photo
Posted July 18, 2013, at 12:44 p.m.
Last modified July 18, 2013, at 5:53 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Board of Environmental Protection postponed a decision Thursday regarding a proposed 14-turbine wind power project on Passadumkeag Mountain, citing a large volume of public comments received late last week.

Robert Foley, who is chairman of the citizen board, said he expects the board to vote on the project at a special meeting scheduled for Aug. 1.

“It was just impossible for the board and staff to review all the comments we received,” said Foley. “I made this decision late yesterday afternoon.”

DEP staff told the board Thursday that 45 documents had been received during the public comment period that ended Friday, including one that was signed by 53 individuals.

At issue is an application by Passadumkeag Windpark LLC and landowner Penobscot Forest LLC that was rejected by the Department of Environmental Protection in November 2012. DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho turned down the application based on the negative visual impact the project would have on the area, particularly Saponac Pond, which is southeast of the town of Lincoln in Penobscot County.

During an appeal hearing on March 21 of this year, the citizen board overturned the department’s decision. The board voted 5-1 that Saponac Pond and the surrounding area are not of adequate environmental or scenic significance to justify the department’s rejection.

Both Aho and Gov. Paul LePage blasted the board’s decision.

“While the initial and largely taxpayer-funded investment in wind power projects may be attractive to some, one-of-a-kind views like the ones from Saponac Pond have great value and are long-term drivers of Maine’s tourism and natural resource-based economy,” LePage said in a written statement at the time. “I applaud DEP for subjecting wind power projects to the same robust review as other industrial developments. I am deeply disappointed in the Board of Environmental Protection’s decision.”

Between then and now, the department has been collecting written testimony about the decision and department staff has been updating the draft board order.

There was little indication Thursday about whether board members would ask for more adjustments to the draft order, but Mark Bergeron, director of the DEP’s Division of Land Resources Regulation, said his staff is already strained with numerous applications for wind farms.

“It’s an unprecedented time for the department,” said Bergeron. “We currently have more applications in appeal and review than we have had approved applications in the last nine years. It’s fair to say we are underwater with wind.”

Bergeron said his staff is in the midst of reviewing or preparing draft orders for wind projects in Hancock County, Bowers Mountain in Lee and Canton Mountain in western Maine. The department also is beginning the public meeting process for a project in Bingham, among others. Regardless of the heavy work load, Bergeron urged the Board of Environmental Protection to proceed carefully on the Passadumkeag project.

“One of my primary concerns is that this is the last chance for the department to review the Passadumkeag Windpark order,” he said. “Once you vote on Aug. 1, that’s it. You don’t get another shot at it.”

Bergeron said the bottleneck on the Passadumkeag project was partially caused by the applicants filing extensive comments and responses last Wednesday and Friday.

“In my estimation, the applicant did not help the department or the board by providing comments in a timely manner,” said Bergeron. “At the June meeting, that schedule was very important to the applicant, but they waited until the very last minute.”

The board has not yet published details about the time and location of its Aug. 1 meeting.

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