Island Falls fundraiser focuses on fighting Oakfield wind project

Posted Aug. 18, 2013, at 3:22 p.m.

ISLAND FALLS, Maine — Two years ago, residents of Oakfield voted to forge an agreement that paved the way for First Wind to construct a 50-turbine wind farm in the community.

After the vote was taken, company officials said that they hoped to start construction in the summer of 2012 with an estimated completion date of fall 2013.

But construction on the project has not yet begun, as First Wind has faced opposition from Protect Our Lakes — a group of individuals who have been fighting the project ever since it was approved.

On Saturday, Protect Our Lakes held its final fundraiser at the Va Jo Wa golf course in Island Falls to garner money to finance lawyer fees as it goes to court to appeal an April 2012 decision by the Maine Board of Environmental Protection to uphold state regulators’ decision to grant the permit for the Oakfield wind farm.

Donna Davidge, an Island Falls resident and member of the group who has been a vocal opponent of the project, said that past fundraisers have been “very successful.”

“We’ve always gotten tremendous support,” she said Friday. “I don’t think that First Wind understands how deeply the landowners here will be negatively impacted by this project.”

Situated approximately 2.5 miles from the center of the community, each of the 50 turbines will stand more than 400 feet tall from base to blade tip. They will be capable of generating up to 3 megawatts of power each. Additionally, they will have the capacity to produce enough clean, renewable energy to power more than 48,000 homes.

Opponents of the project have stated that the turbines will spoil the views from Pleasant and Mattawamkeag lakes, which are important to the local tourism economy. They also suggested the turbines could harm bats and eagles.

Candace Rupley, another Island Falls resident and Protect Our Lakes member, agreed. Her family owns two lots on Pleasant Lake in Island Falls and doesn’t want to see the beautiful scenery blighted by the turbines.

First Wind has said that the $360 million project could generate as many as 400 jobs during construction. The project will also bring significant economic benefits to the town—$14.7 million in tax revenues over 20 years and an additional $12 million in community benefit payments during that time. Those funds go to a town fund and can be used for town priorities such as a public safety building, fire engines, road improvements and more.

“I understand why the people of Oakfield want this project,” Rupley said. “The economy is declining, and they have been promised all of this money and these tax benefits. But this impacts people in Island Falls as well.”

Rupley said Sunday that Saturday night’s fundraiser was well attended, with some Protect Our Lakes members from downstate even making the trek to Aroostook County to offer support.

Officials from First Wind could not be reached for comment Friday, but the company has touted the benefits of the project. So far, the company has garnered the necessary permits and successfully fought back against Protect Our Lakes.

Matt Kearns, First Wind’s vice president for development in the northeast, said after the company was successful in getting the BEP to uphold the wind farm permit that the Oakfield project “is unprecedented in Maine among wind energy facilities in terms of the scope of the benefit package to the local community and the potential for job creation.”

He also said in a statement last year that First Wind conducted an “unprecedented” local review process for the project, providing resources for the town of Oakfield to hire independent sound experts, engineers and lawyers.

After the Oakfield community vote, he said that he was humbled by the support that the community put behind the project.

First Wind operates five wind farms in Maine including Mars Hill Wind in Aroostook County, Rollins Wind in Penobscot County, Bull Hill Wind in Hancock County and Stetson Wind I & II in Washington County.

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