Maine BEP denies Spruce Mountain appeal

AUGUSTA — The Maine Board of Environmental Protection rejected an appeal against approval of the Spruce Mountain Wind Project on Thursday by a 5-1 vote.

For the Massachusetts-based firm Patriot Renewables, it was another hurdle cleared toward building a 10-turbine wind farm in Woodstock with a maximum output of 20 megawatts.

Denise Hall, vice president of the group Friends of Spruce Mountain, said in an e-mail that her group had hoped the board would deny the permit because the turbines were so close to homes. She said her group had yet to decide whether to take the case to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on the grounds that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection should have held a public hearing.

At Tuesday's hearing, Portland attorney Rufus Brown, representing Friends of Spruce Mountain, argued that after the noise problems and health problems allegedly connected to turbines, opponents to the project deserve a public hearing where experts could speak about the health hazards of putting wind turbines near Woodstock and Sumner residents.

Gordon Smith, an attorney for Patriot Renewables, said the firm had already endured an eight-month approval process by the Maine DEP that included two time extensions. He called it “fundamentally unfair” for the firm to have to endure another application process before starting the project.

Dawn Hallowell, the DEP project manager who approved the Spruce Mountain project, also spoke in defense of the rigorous study her department conducted before granting a land-use permit to Patriot Renewables.

The board agreed and voted 5-1 to accept the findings of the DEP study. Only board member Lissa Widoff voted against the majority, calling it a difficult decision but noting how the models to estimate noise output were admittedly not an exact science.

Hallowell responded to Friends of Spruce Mountain's claims that birds and bats could be affected by pointing to studies by Tetra Tech of Portland, included in the permit, of the bird and bat populations.

Friends of Spruce Mountain also argued that the turbines would affect the view from Concord Pond.

Hallowell responded that the DEP was only required to assess the impact from ponds designated as “great ponds” in “Maine's Finest Lakes, the Results of the Maine Lakes Study," published by the Maine State Planning Office. Concord Pond was not included in that list.

Brown presented evidence on the annoyance factor of low-frequency wind turbine noise. He cited a study that found low-frequency noise is annoying and can cause health problems at a much lower level than other industrial noises such as cars and trains and argued that even 45 decibels may be too loud at night.

He also argued that the decibel models accounted only for the noise of the turbine motors, not for “wind shear,” the repetitive thumping that results when turbine blades cut through layers of wind moving at different speeds.

Warren Brown, owner of EnRad Consulting, and a consultant to the DEP in their permitting process, which deals with noise issues, pointed out that wind shear is more common closer to sea level in places such as Vinalhaven, but not as common in mountainous areas like Spruce Mountain.

Smith said that in addition to conservative scientific models used to predict noise levels, the DEP order also included a provision requiring that Patriot Renewables collect data at permanently-established sites and to operate a toll-free complaint hot line where residents can report loud turbine noise.

The firm must collect data on the noise and submit it to the DEP. If the DEP finds they are exceeding noise limits, Patriot must reduce the noise levels of the turbines. Smith called it a “belt and suspenders approach” to turbine noise concerns.

Rufus Brown said it wasn't enough to let potentially problematic turbines be built before dealing with the consequences.

He took offense to Smith's assertion that it was unfair to submit Patriot to another hearing. “That is exactly upside-down,” Brown said. “It is fundamentally unfair to the people in this neighborhood to this project ...  when there are so many uncertainties.”

Brown said he represents clients in Vinalhaven experiencing health problems caused by noise from the wind turbines there. “I have one client who had a heart attack that's attributable to them because of the stress,” he said.

“People have seriously, seriously suffered,” Brown said.

After the hearing, Smith complimented the board for arriving at “the position that was supplied by the facts.”

Brown said he wasn't surprised by the outcome but said he was pleased that one board member was moved by turbine noise concerns, which he called a new development.

“I am encouraged by the learning curve,” he said.

treaves@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Dan McKay's picture

After hearing testimony (

After hearing testimony ( testimony is a solemn attestation as to the truth of a matter.) regarding a friend suffering a heart attack attributable to wind mills near his home, how can anyone with any semblance of connection to human welfare so callously show such disregard .Is it really happening or just a nightmare.

turbinesr

Please put one of these things in by back yard. Renewable resource that is NOT middle eastern derived...when will we learn as a country that we get our oil from a very unstable part of the world. Can't wait until next winter when you all are paying 5.50+ for heating oil. just continue to bury your heads in the sand. We need to get of oil! Wine about it all you want, the time to do it is now.

Lisa Lindsay's picture

Huh?

I'm not clear on how the wind turbines, which provide (a tiny bit) of electricity, will replace your heating oil or put gas in your car?? This will drive down our heating oil prices how?

Lisa Lindsay's picture

Unfair. Really?

Oh, so unfair to Patriot Renewables. They are such cry-babies. Too bad!! This is a major change to a very rural, mostly undeveloped, beautiful area with virtually no precedence. If the project is so worthy, it can wait until every stone is turned over.

And yes, there is a DEP permit process that the wind companies must go through but the hands of those experts who comment on the application from various state departments are tied by the expedited wind law. The floodgates were opened with that law and very little of Maine's special places (special to many of us anyway) are protected.

Wind companies have had the red carpet rolled out for them. They can stop pretending life is unfair.

Alice Barnett's picture

one project at a time

we cannot stop educating citizens of the scam destroying earth. see facebook friends of saddleback... we are attempting to bring clarity to the huge application Patriot
Renewables has at Carthage town office.

Dan McKay's picture

Follow The Money

Well, let's see. 5-1. At least one has given the noise issue enough thought to realize that people are also part of the "environment" and deserve "protection ". What is going on within the minds of the other 5 is beyond me.
Let's look at excerpts from another story in today's Sun Journal about the town of Carthage and raising property taxes :
One of the largest impacts on the tax rate was the decline in state revenue sharing. It dropped to $44,000 from $57,000
 Franklin County taxes rose about $1,500, to $26,833; and school assessments rose $16,381, to $279,082, he said.
Brown said the Homestead Exemption has been reduced to $10,000 from $13,000, 

Carthage has the enviable opportunity to host a wind mill project, raising State valuation by 180%. The common thread in the items above reflecting Carthage's dire circumstances is the State/County , both using formulas based on percentage of municipal valuation. The State has budget woes too, Mr. Steve Brown. The secret of your envisioned new riches is no longer a secret and you can bet the beneficiary of this money will be your ally, the State,
So, I ask why would 5 State workers vote denial to this appeal ?

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