PORTLAND — Professional guides and sporting camp owners are opposing a proposed $100 million wind farm in eastern Maine they say will forever spoil the region’s wilderness character. Environmental groups say the project will cut pollution, create jobs and bring clean energy to the state.
The sides will square off when the Department of Environmental Protection holds two days of hearings this week on First Wind’s application to build a 16-turbine, 48-megawatt wind farm, known as the Bowers Wind project, in a backcountry area straddling Washington and Penobscot counties.
A year ago, regulators rejected First Wind’s application for 27 turbines in Carroll Plantation and Kossuth Township. The company says its revised plan with fewer turbines minimizes the scenic and cultural impacts.
Project supporters include the Conservation Law Foundation, the Sierra Club, Maine Audubon, Environment Maine and the American Lung Association. Opponents include the Maine Sporting Camp Association, the Maine Professional Guides Association, the Grand Lake Stream Guides Association, the Maine Wilderness Guides Association and the Partnership for the Preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed.
Allies and critics will make their arguments Tuesday and Wednesday at hearings being held in Lee, about 10 miles from the project site. There’s no timeline on when a decision will be made on the application.
First Wind spokesman John Lamontagne said the revised project has fewer turbines that are placed in less visible locations than the first proposal. The turbines will have radar-controlled lighting that will stay off at night unless a plane is flying over, he said.
“We think this is a better project that people can get behind,” he said.
But guides, sporting camp owners and property owners on nearby lakes say the presence of 459-foot wind turbines detracts from the backwoods experience that draws people to the area for fishing, hunting, snowmobiling and other outdoor activities. The wind turbines will have an adverse economic impact on businesses that serve those people, they say.
“The windmills just don’t fit the outdoor experience. They’ll change the wilderness feel of the area,” said Louis Cataldo, a guide from Grand Lake Stream and vice president of the Grand Lake Stream Guides Association.
First Wind, which has four other wind farms operating in Maine, says the project will create jobs, boost tax revenues and cut pollution while generating power for up to 25,000 homes. If the project is approved, First Wind plans to create a $300,000 fund for promotion of sporting camps and guides in the area, conservation efforts and restoration of the area deer population.
Carroll Plantation residents overwhelmingly support the project, the town clerk wrote in a letter to the DEP commissioner. The town was once a thriving community with farms and seven schools, but it doesn’t have a single business today, Anita Duerr wrote. Two other wind farms are visible from town, she said, but nobody’s bothered by them.
People support the project because “we are getting economic benefits that are sorely needed and we have no problems with the view,” her letter reads.
The Conservation Law Foundation and the Marine Renewable Energy Association have filed as interveners in support of the project.
Jeremy Payne, executive director of the MREA, said wind power is good for Maine and that people aren’t going to stop coming to the area because of some wind turbines, he said. The Stetson wind farm has 55 turbines and is located about 10 miles away.
“I find it hard to believe that people who are taking guide trips up to Maine from Boston, Hartford, New York or wherever are suddenly going to stop coming because there are wind turbines spinning on a mountaintop,” he said. “I just don’t believe it.”
The Partnership for the Preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed and registered Maine guide David Corrigan have intervened in opposition to the project.
If the project’s built, there’ll be clear views of the towers from nine nearby lakes that have been designated as scenic resources of state or national significance, said Gary Campbell, president of the Downeast Lakes group. Campbell, who’s from Massachusetts, has a seasonal log cabin not far from the project site.
A wind farm will bring down the inherent and market value of properties, he said, while forever diminishing the wilderness character of the region.
Clients of the area’s guides and sporting camps have written letters to the DEP expressing opposition, he said.
“The region is unusual because it’s almost 100 percent ‘escape tourism,’” he said. “People have written the DEP saying, ‘If I want to go to fishing at the foot of some turbines, I can do that in Massachusetts, New Jersey or New York. I don’t need to go all the way to Maine to do that.’ So they’d probably find another place to go.”