There is an old expression to the effect that "bad things happen when good people do nothing." Thankfully, when it came to First Wind's grand plan to erect 27 43-three story wind turbines atop the mountains of Downeast Maine, a lot of good people did not stand idly by and allow it to happen.
A Downeast grass roots group, the Partnership for the Preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed (PPDLW), along with the Maine Professional Guides Association, the Downeast Guides Association and the Sporting Camp Operator's Association, worked together to convince the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) that First Wind's project would do irreparable damage to the Downeast vista and, ultimately, the local tourism economy.
On April 20, the state regulatory agency rejected First Wind's application by a vote of 5-0. LURC's denial of the $135 million Bowers Mountain project marks the first time that First Wind has even been denied a construction permit. Obviously, there is reason for a big sigh of relief from guides, camp owners, outdoor recreationalists, store owners and others who treasure Downeast Maine's scenic beauty and traditional way of life.
“LURC’s decision to deny the Bowers project is true to its founding principles and Comprehensive Land Use Plan” said Kevin Gurall, President of the grass-roots opposition group Partnership for the Preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed (PPDLW).
The area that would have been most impacted by the Bowers Mountain project, the Scenic Downeast Lakes Region, includes a network of some two dozen lakes. For more than a century, sportsmen and families from all over the country and abroad have come to the region to enjoy a wilderness experience devoid of industrial development. It is home to more than a dozen classic Maine sporting camps and boasts the largest concentration of Professional Maine Guides in the State.
In many ways, the LURC decision is as much of a surprise to First Wind opponents as it is to First Wind itself. When the controversy started, there were, among the Downeast outdoor community, respected individuals who remained skeptical, convinced from other disappointing life experiences that there was no way the little guy could fight city hall, so to speak. To its everlasting credit, the PPDLW folks proceeded to fight, undaunted by the formidable resources of a large corporation.
As it turned out, LURC was swayed by a straight-forward, compelling argument made by large numbers of citizens hellbent on preserving what might be called a quality of life. Gurall said it best, “The Scenic Downeast Lakes Region is almost entirely dependent on sporting-and nature-based tourism for its survival. Anything that takes away from the wilderness experience will affect tourism which will in turn cost many residents their jobs and their businesses. Clearly this is not the place to build an industrial wind project."
In its landmark decision, LURC acknowledged that the decision turned on the project’s failure to meet the Wind Law’s scenic impact criterion. Wind law legalities aside, there was always in the first place an element of unbridled audacity in First Wind's attempt to erect big wind turbines in a part of Maine that is renown for its scenic beauty. In defending their quest to erect wind turbines in scenic places, First Wind stated in its application, "Fishermen can orient their boats away from the turbines or situate themselves in one of the many coves if views of the turbines become undesirable. Or they may recreate at other nearby lakes with fewer views of turbines, if preferred."
And they were serious!
The LURC decision is good news, at least for now. But, alas, First Wind has indicated that it will be back for another run at the LURC gauntlet with a scaled down version of the Bowers Mountain project. First Wind’s Director of Communications, John Lamontagne, has said that First Wind will modify the application and resubmit it later this year. There is no rest for the weary, but, in this case, time is an ally of truth. More and more Mainers, who earlier had bought into the simplistic conclusion that wind turbines in Maine are a wonderful "green" solution for our energy needs, are learning that, by and large, Maine is not getting a justifiable economic or energy return from the wind turbines that mar the landscape.
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program "Maine Outdoors" heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and his new book is "A Maine Deer Hunter's Logbook."