Saddleback Mountain looks toward the future

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Skiing at Saddleback Mountain (Photo by Gary Pearl)

SANDY RIVER PLANTATION – The new owners of Saddleback Mountain are looking toward the future with a proposed 35-acre solar array and a state of the art mid-mountain lodge; if approved by the Land Use Planning Commission next month, the improvements will secure a more stable future for the ski mountain General Manager Andy Shepard said. The LUPC held a virtual public hearing on the matter last week that brought few concerns and significant support for the project, according to Arctaris Impact Fund’s attorney Thomas Federle. The project, while two-fold, would address the same goal of creating a successful, sustainable long-term operation.

If approved, the solar energy created would completely meet the needs of the entire operation, eliminating the hefty electric bills and creating a “sustainable Saddleback”. The 35-acre array would also generate surplus energy, which could then be used by local businesses in the Rangeley area, Federle said. The decision to double the amount of electricity that the mountain would need was a purposeful one, with the aim of helping Maine reach its goal of providing 100 percent renewable electricity by 2050.

“Saddleback is a remarkable example of the Northern Borealis forest and we recognize our responsibility to be stewards of that environment. The best way for us to demonstrate that commitment is through this solar power project,” Shepard said.

The specific site among the 500 acres of possibility was chosen for its ease of access to a nearby transmission line as well as the pre-existing road that leads to the site. The Maine Appalachian Trail Club and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy have stated their concerns around the solar panels being in the direct view of the Appalachian Trail that runs along Saddleback Mountain’s ridge.

“…development must be balanced against the recreational, scenic, natural and cultural resources of the Appalachian Trail. As stewards of the A.T. in Maine, part of MATC’s mission is to preserve the scenic integrity and minimize development impacts adjacent to the A.T.,” they stated.

Federle said they have explored constructing in other areas but have found the proposed site as the best option. If approved, the array would become operational in late 2021, roughly following the same timeline as the proposed construction of a new lodge.

Using primarily glass, the mid-mountain lodge will be designed for an immersive experience, according to Shepard. The lodge will be built on pedestals to reduce the impact on the surrounding watershed, and will boast a living roof of native low-bush blueberries. Arctaris is working closely with the Maine Audubon Society to create a building that is safe for the local birds- using special glass to minimize strikes, and delaying construction to avoid the mating season of the threatened Bicknell’s thrush.

The LUPC will vote on the proposed project early next month.

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