Saddleback Mountain, outside Rangeley, reopened in December under new owners after a five-year shutdown and received the go-ahead Wednesday to start planning for two major projects, a solar farm and new mid-mountain lodge. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal file photo Buy this Photo

DALLAS PLANTATION — Weighing financial impacts against visual ones, the Land Use Planning Commission on Wednesday cleared the way for Saddleback Mountain Ski Resort to start planning a new midmountain lodge and $8 million solar farm.

Tom Federle, an attorney for Saddleback’s new owners, Arctaris Impact Fund, told commissioners this past fall both were critical to the resort’s future to accommodate more skiers and tame electric costs.

He said Wednesday that Saddleback had so far been hitting its financial targets since reopening last month.

“I think the new owners at Saddleback have done a tremendous job in trying to find a balance,” Commissioner Bill Gilmore said. “It does what’s been long needed in the Rangeley area. I think it’s an economic boost for all of us in the western mountains.”

The proposed 30-acre solar array will sit on about 50 cleared acres in the northwest corner of the 6,350-acre property, according to an application pending with LUPC.

It’s near a Central Maine Power transmission line, three miles from the Appalachian Trail and will produce a surplus of energy for the resort.

A rough square outline, right background, shows a simulation by A&D Klumb Environmental of what a solar farm would look like at Saddleback Mountain Resort looking down from the Appalachian Trail between Saddleback Mountain and The Horn. Rendering from Maine Land Use Planning Commission application

The solar array will be visible to hikers from the summit and ridgeline of Saddleback Mountain, but in the context of the two-million-acre viewshed, “likely would not be a prominent feature on the landscape,” according to a LURC staff memo.

Federle said Arctaris will submit plans in the next few weeks for the 6,000-square-foot midmountain lodge to be built near the top of the resort’s new high-speed chairlift.

He told the commission in September that the former chairlift system maxed out at 100,000 skiers a year, which was not enough to sustain the resort, and projected the mountain needed between 150,000 and 180,000.

After a five-year shutdown, “it’s just a thrill to have the mountain open again,” he said Wednesday. “We’ve been hitting the early projection numbers that we wanted and the feedback from our customers has been wonderful. So it’s a good start, we have a lot of work ahead of us, but we’re happy that we have the community skiing again.”

Arctaris needed LURC to approve zoning changes to Saddleback’s Planned Development District to clear the path for both projects, which are slated to be completed this year, as well as to allow small solar energy systems on condominiums in the future.

As part of its approval, the commission directed Saddleback to develop a long-term habitat management plan for the Bicknell’s thrush after several groups expressed concern that the new lodge could impact the bird’s habitat.

The proposed change drew more than two dozen public comments. While the Maine Appalachian Trail Club argued for the solar array to be moved off-site so it wouldn’t impact views, most comments were overwhelmingly positive.

“We are not only OK with seeing a solar power farm while hiking, but the appearance reassures us that the mountain has taken a proactive stance in environmental sustainability,” wrote Jonathan Fanburg and Stephanie Gartner-Fanburg, avid hikers who have owned a condominium at Saddleback for 10 years.


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