BANGOR, Maine — Opponents of a 148-megawatt wind farm in the Aroostook County town of Oakfield that broke ground in September are asking a federal judge to withdraw the project’s permit and require additional review to see if it harms endangered Atlantic salmon.
Protect Our Lakes and the Forest Ecology Network, both nonprofit groups, and people who own camps in the area in 2013 sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of the Interior over the 50-turbine farm.
First Wind of Massachusetts was the developer of the $360 million project that is about 2.5 miles from the center of the town on the low-lying ridges of the Oakfield Hills. The new transmission lines will connect to the utility grid in Chester.
Missouri-based solar energy company SunEdison purchased First Wind, which had five wind-to-energy facilities in Maine and others in development, for $2.4 billion at the end of January.
SunEdison spokesman John Lamontagne said Thursday afternoon that the sale would have no effect on the lawsuit, and that SunEdison is the responsible party.
Oral arguments in the federal lawsuit were conducted in front of U.S. District Court Judge Jon Levy on Thursday by Lynne Williams, representing Protect Our Lakes, Juliet Browne from First Wind and Trent Crable, who represented the federal government.
“We are arguing the Army Corps [of Engineers] should have requested formal consultation with the service [concerning Atlantic salmon],” said Williams, referring to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service.
“Portions of the project occur in watersheds that are listed as critical habitat for Atlantic salmon,” she said. “[And] only a few of the 34 streams” were evaluated to see if the federally listed endangered species would be affected by the project, she stressed.
Levy said the number of streams tested also seemed low to him, but he added that he’s not a marine biologist. When Crable stood before him, the judge asked him directly about the tests done.
“The crux of the issue in this case is whether the Fish and Wildlife report is sufficient,” Levy said. “I think the most damning excerpt from the report is the service only had data on a few of the streams in the project area.”
Crable said the answer is simple.
“Many are intermittent streams [and for] the majority of the year don’t have water in them,” he said. “If there is no water, there are no fish.”
Crable acknowledged that the Fish and Wildlife report, which mentions the streams and ends by stating there is no adverse effect on Atlantic salmon, could have been clearer.
Browne, who described the lawsuit as a red herring, also argued that the temporary stream crossings within the project zone are designed to minimize erosion and any effects on fish.
“There is very limited in-stream work,” she said.
At the end of the oral arguments, Levy said he would consider the case and would issue a written decision.