Endless Energy’s effort to put a wind farm on top of Redington Mountain near Carrabassett Valley is a bad idea that won’t die the death it sorely needs. In fact, the idea seems to get worse all the time. Knocked down four times, twice by the Land Use Regulation Commission, once by the Governor’s Wind Power Task Force, and once by the legislature in its 2008 Wind Power bill, this commercial creature is still on its feet however barely. Promoter Harley Lee’s new strategy is to make an end run around LURC by asking the legislature to allow the town of Carrabassett Valley to annex the necessary land. He has been busy in the meantime meeting with residents there offering the financial enticements he hopes will sway them if the legislature grants his wish.
Mr. Lee has been going hard at this project for 15 years with little to show. His initial proposal for 30 turbines tanked because LURC realized there was no way to accommodate a wind farm site and still be within its statutory mission of promoting rational, harmonious development in Maine’s mountains. The public saw this too, which is why public opinion and the collective energy of all of Maine’s conservation groups, including Maine Audubon and our chapter, Western Maine Audubon, worked to defeat his proposal. And it was rejected by the commissioners almost unanimously. Even the governor’s Wind Power Task Force, empowered to expedite wind development, struck Redington Township from its list as unsuitable for development. In all of these decisions the State has made clear its position that Redington and Black Nubble are places of high natural value – ecological, scenic, and recreational value–that should be protected from development. This should have been the last word but now Lee sees a bit of day light in taking this decision to the people of Carrabassett valley and out of state hands.
Redington township is part of the state’s vast 10 million acres – fully half of the entire state – that is considered unorganized, outside town government. In 1971 LURC was set up by the legislature to oversee development in these areas. This was to assure thoughtful, planned development rather than the inevitable degradation of landscape and character that comes with sprawl. This same sprawl was identified by the recent Brookings report as the biggest threat to Maine’s long term economic growth, since Maine’s scenic landscape is the very engine of its economic vitality. LURC’s charge is to assure that development is “harmonious,” appropriate, and consistent with the “underlying natural and ecological values” of the lands in question. It was in the letter and spirit of LURC’s guiding statutes that Redington and Black Nubble, high mountain areas with fragile soils, threatened species, and special scenic value were deemed off limits, and the Wind Power Task force agreed.
LD 741, innocuously titled “An Act to Authorize the Annexation of a Portion of Redington Township in Franklin County to the Town of Carrabassett Valley” and co-sponsored by Senator Walter Gooley (R-Farmington) and Wright Pinkham (R-Lexington), is the bill that seeks to permit Redington’s annexation. While Lee’s wind farm is not anywhere mentioned in the bill, this is what it is all about. Maine Audubon Society and Western Maine Audubon are joining those who are speaking out against this bill and I hope you will too. If Endless Energy can coax the legislature to ignore existing law and the results of hearings where can this end for a state whose environment is so central to its present, past, and future? Nothing about the project has been changed. The fragile soils, the disturbed ecosystem, likely impacts on a major migratory bird route, and the proximity to the Appalachian Trail all remain. The only change is the political sleight of hand.
While specifically intended to allow a Redington wind farm, this move if allowed, would cast a shadow across all the wild lands of the state since it would set the precedent for their reclassification by developers who manage to lobby hard enough. Readers can contact the legislature’s State and Local Government Committee (http://www.maine.gov/legis/house/jt_com/slg.htm) to express their opinions about LD741. The bill will eventually go out of committee to the legislature and letting your local legislators know your views will also be very important. Finally there will be public hearings in April or May and these will be opportunities for you to comment directly. The innocuous sounding bill is very important to defeat.
Steve Bien is on the board of Western Maine Audubon.