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AUGUSTA, Maine — State environmental officials have recommended that the Board of Environmental Protection reaffirm the denial of a proposed $100 million, 16-turbine wind-to-energy site in eastern Penobscot County, officials said Tuesday.
Maine Department of Environmental Protection staff members Jessica M. Damon and Mark Bergeron advised the appeal board in a 12-page memo dated this month that the proposed 48-megawatt facility would have too negative an impact on the views of several lakes and ponds surrounding Bowers Mountain, the site of the proposed development.
The BEP is expected to rule on the wind project developer’s appeal during a hearing at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Augusta Civic Center.
“The Department found that the adverse scenic impacts of this proposed project were widespread in nature, and that this characteristic of the scenic impacts is a factor that may be considered in the ultimate determination of the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the” project, DEP staff members wrote in a memo to the board.
If the appeal board takes the recommendation, the rejection would be the second given by a state agency to a project proposed for Bowers Mountain. The first, by what then was called the Land Use Regulatory Commission in April 2012, marked the first time a project proposed by First Wind was denied in Maine.
“We believe that they did not meet the standard for scenic criteria. We believe that the project would have represented an unreasonable adverse impact to scenic character and existing uses related to that,” Bergeron said Tuesday. “That’s what we based everything on.”
Bowers Mountain is in Carroll Plantation and Kossuth Township, and eight lakes deemed Scenic Resources of State or National Significance are within 8 miles of the project site.
Neil Kiely, a First Wind project director working for First Wind subsidiary Champlain Wind, which is proposing the project, said he hoped the board would reverse the DEP recommendation.
“The only issue in this case is the visual impact issue,” Kiely said Tuesday. “Obviously, this has the potential to be a subjective standard, but the host community supports the project, and they have the unique experience of living within sight of turbines” at another First Wind project nearby.
The Conservation Law Foundation, Maine chapter of the Sierra Club, Maine Audubon Society, Environment Maine, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Maine ATV Association and Maine Snowmobile Association support the project, as do surrounding landowners, Kiely said. He also believes that the DEP’s own visual impacts expert found that the project met the requirements of state law.
“We think this presents a very compelling case,” Kiely said.
Bergeron and Damon rejected arguments from Champlain Wind that Maine DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho, in rejecting the application on Aug. 5, failed to adequately balance the project’s favorable economic impacts against its environmental impacts.
Damon and Bergeron wrote that the DEP gave considerable weight to the testimony of guides and tourist businesses from hearings at Lee Academy that the project would significantly hamper their work.
They also rejected arguments that wind power was “critical to the long-term sustainability of Maine’s working forests and the continued use of those lands by Maine’s recreating public.” They said that while the timber industry is important to the region’s economy, that under Maine’s Wind Energy Act, no specific reference is made to leasing landowners’ financial benefits from wind-to-energy projects.
The application Aho rejected in August was the replacement of a 27-turbine project rejected by what was then called the Land Use Regulation Commission in April 2012.