A Massachusetts developer is appealing a state regulatory agency’s denial of its application to build a $100 million industrial wind site on Bowers Mountain in eastern Penobscot County, its spokesman said Wednesday.
Lawyers for First Wind filed the appeal with the Board of Environmental Protection late Wednesday afternoon. It challenges the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s Aug. 5 decision, spokesman John Lamontagne said.
“We believe DEP made an error by creating a visual standard for Bowers Mountain that does not exist in the wind law,” Lamontagne said Wednesday. “On top of that, we thought DEP did not take into account the testimony of their own expert, and they denied the permit for the project despite what we felt was very strong evidence that the project complied with state law.”
In a letter signed by DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho, the department rejected the proposed 16-turbine wind farm because it would have “an unreasonable adverse effect on the scenic character and existing uses related to scenic character” in the area, which includes eight lakes deemed Scenic Resources of State or National Significance within eight miles of the project site.
The official denial came less than a week after the DEP staff recommended that the project be denied.
First Wind had argued that it had conformed with state law with its second submission, in October 2012, by cutting back on the footprint of the original proposal rejected by the now-defunct Land Use Recreation Commission in April 2012.
The original proposal suggested 27 turbines instead of 16 on a smaller area. Some of the turbines were also relocated to what company officials felt were less visible or environmentally adverse sites, a point attorney Juliet T. Browne made in the appeal.
“It is the right project, in the right place, at the right time,” Browne wrote. “Importantly, the project enjoys the strong support of its host communities, Carroll Plantation, Kossuth Township and Washington County. While wind development has been controversial in some communities, Carroll, Kossuth and Washington County have embraced the project.
“Their strong support is a critical consideration that is entitled to, but was not accorded, substantial weight in the review process, including review of scenic impacts,” she added.
Officials from those towns and many residents said the project was vital to their economic futures, but several residential and local environmental groups, such as the Partnership for the Preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed, opposed the project.
More than 1,000 residents signed a petition organized by the watershed group opposing the project. They said that the 460-foot tall turbines “would be visible from many of the region’s storied lakes, and eight of the turbines would be equipped with flashing red strobe lights in an area that is known for its dark night sky.”
A scenic impact expert the DEP hired, James F. Palmer, told DEP officials during two days of hearings last spring at Lee Academy in Lee that the project “comes as close as being unreasonably adverse” in its potential impact on Bowers Mountain as any he has seen.
It avoids an adverse impact on the lakes surrounding the mountain by the narrowest margin, he said.
State law required the department to review the project’s visual impact within eight miles of the turbines placement on the Bowers Mountain ranges. The turbines would have been built within three miles of Pleasant, Shaw, Duck and Junior lakes and eight miles from Scraggly, Keg, Bottle, Sysladobsis and Pug lakes.
Mountain guides and other tourism and recreation industry representatives argued during the hearing that the view of the turbines would disrupt their businesses and drive away their customers in eastern Penobscot and western Washington counties, areas that need the trade.
They argued that the 16 turbines would be taller by 30 feet than the 27 turbines and placed on higher ground, thus negating the footprint reduction.
The board handles appeals of DEP decisions. No review dates have been set.
BDN Business Editor Whit Richardson contributed to this report.