Board grants final approval to Passadumkeag Mountain wind project

Passadumkeag Mountain with Saponac Pond in the foreground.
R.W. Estela
Passadumkeag Mountain with Saponac Pond in the foreground.
Posted Aug. 01, 2013, at 6:45 p.m.

A 14-turbine wind project proposed for Passadumkeag Mountain won final approval Thursday when the Board of Environmental Protection ratified its earlier decision overturning a state rejection of the project, officials said.

The board’s 5-0 approval during its meeting Thursday came after a delay Chairman Robert Foley sought in response to Department of Environmental Protection staff receiving 45 documents regarding the project in mid-June, when the public comment period closed.

“The decision was a difficult one for the board,” Foley said Thursday. “We don’t normally find against the department but in this case, our opinion and looking at the record and following the standard set by the Legislature, we found that the evidence supported that the project would not have a negative visual impact.”

“It was not a decision that we took lightly,” he added.

The board originally set off a firestorm involving Gov. Paul LePage and DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho in March when it overturned Aho’s recommendation that the project be rejected. The board voted 5-1.

Aho turned down the application in November 2012 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.

Aho’s rejection of the proposal was the first by DEP regarding a wind project, the department’s spokeswoman said at the time, just as the board’s vote was the first overturn of a department rejection of a project.

The developers, Penobscot Forest and Passadumkeag Windpark, argued that the criteria for the rejection was flawed, the project’s impact on the view was overstated and that the decision hurts those companies.

The project would be visible from 97 percent of Saponac Lake and affect several other bodies of water nearby, the department’s spokeswoman said.

The board ruled in its 65-page decision that the generating facility’s visibility “is not a solely sufficient basis” for saying that the project had “an unreasonable adverse effect” on the scenic character and existing uses of the lakes.

The 42-megawatt project will mostly be in Grand Falls, which is just south-southeast of Burlington and Lowell, and also would be in Summit Township, according to the developer’s proposal.

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