LINCOLN — Five people were arrested this morning after they refused to stop blocking construction vehicles at the Rollins wind energy project here.
The arrests came as roughly three dozen protesters gathered at the entrance to the project site, shortly before 8 a.m. The action was part of a rally planned by citizen groups opposed to the project on Rollins Mountain, as well as other large-scale wind energy proposals around the state.
Most of those arrested were affiliated with the Maine branch of the national activist group, Earth First! Wearing orange ponchos against the driving rain and biting wind, they stood across a gravel access road and forced trucks to stop for nearly a half hour.
Traffic resumed after the activists ignored warnings from Lincoln Police and officers began escorting them to waiting cruisers. One woman was carried by officers when she refused to walk to a police car.
Other protesters, one dressed as a clown, many holding signs, cheered for their colleagues and jeered the police. Other officers attempted to move the crowd off the project property and onto the public right-of-way bordering Route 6.
Boston-based First Wind began site clearing and road building for the $130 million project in late September. It since has been pouring concrete foundations for the 40 turbines planned for the ridge lines here and in neighboring Burlington, Lee and Winn. More than 150 workers are currently on the job, with more expected later this fall when the turbine towers are erected.
John Lamontagne, spokesman for First Wind, said the company was pleased to move ahead with the project and provide jobs in northern Maine during tough economic times.
“It’s unfortunate a small group of renewable energy opponents have chosen to protest that, but we respect their rights to do so,” he said. “This project will put more than 200 people to work during construction, and generate enough clean, renewable power for more than 24,000 homes in Maine. We’re proud of that.”
The project is rated at a capacity of 60 megawatts. The output is set to be sold to Central Maine Power and Bangor Hydro-Electric, under a power purchase agreement approved by state regulators.
Opposition to Rollins has so far slowed, but not stopped, First Wind. The company received local planning board approvals late in 2008, and won state permits in 2009. The project was appealed by Friends of Lincoln Lakes, which ultimately lost a widely-watched test case at the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
Members of the group who turned out this morning said they hoped publicity would draw attention to what they see as harmful development of Maine’s wild lands.
Today’s protest was part civic protest, part street theater. Brad Blake, one of the organizers, carried a poster that read, “Stop the rape of rural Maine.” It showed a “Welcome to Lincoln” sign that boasted the town is home to 13 lakes, not 40 turbines.
Gary Steinberg carried a giant screwdriver around and shouted: “Screw the citizens!”
Other protesters came from western Maine, where citizen groups are fighting proposed projects.
As a practical matter, the protest did little to disrupt construction. Most work was curtailed this morning by the bad weather. Brad Kites, who lives in Lincoln and is First Wind’s project manager, said he respected the right of residents to express their opinion, but would rather that they not disrupt the work, or create a safety hazard.