Opponents of Oakfield wind farm file lawsuit in federal court, worried about eagles and salmon

Posted Oct. 29, 2013, at 2:18 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 29, 2013, at 4:03 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Groups and individuals opposed to the construction of a wind farm in Oakfield have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court to stop the proposed installation of 50 mountaintop turbines and 59 miles of transmission lines.

Protect Our Lakes and the Forest Ecology Network, both nonprofit groups, and people who own camps in the area sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of the Interior on Tuesday.

First Wind of Massachusetts is the developer of the $360 million project that will consist of 50 3.0-megawatt turbines that have the capacity to produce enough renewable energy to power more than 48,000 homes, according to the company. The new transmission lines will connect the turbines to the utility grid at the Penobscot County town of Chester.

The lawsuit claims the wind project, which was approved by Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection, would endanger bald eagles and Atlantic salmon. It also alleges the proposed project violates the International Migratory Bird Treaty, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which approved the project, “failed to do adequate investigation into probable impacts on bald eagles and Atlantic salmon if the project were to be built,” the complaint said. “The corps did not request that U.S. Fish and Wildlife service produce a biological assessment of either the Atlantic salmon or the bald eagle, merely concurring with the USFWS requirement that [the developer] develop an Eagle Conservation Plan and implement it prior to commercial operations. By that time, the habitat fragmentation and destruction will have occurred.”

John Lamontagne, spokesman for First Wind, said Tuesday that the firm had not yet received a copy of the complaint.

“During the permitting process for the project, the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service carefully and thoroughly reviewed the project and its potential impacts and concluded that it complied with applicable federal laws,” Lamontagne said in a statement emailed to the Bangor Daily News. “We believe this project will be able to deliver significant economic benefits to the region and the town of Oakfield while generating clean renewable energy that will power thousands of homes.”

Residents of Oakfield voted two years ago to enter into an agreement with First Wind that paved the way for the $360 million project, according to a previously published report. Company officials said after the vote that construction most likely would begin in the summer of 2012 with an estimated completion date of fall 2013.

Construction has not yet begun but last month First Wind announced it had signed long-term power-purchase agreements with four Massachusetts utilities to provide them with electricity generated by the wind farm in Oakfield and another under development in Somerset County.

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, according to its website.

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