Saturday, April 16, 2011
David vs. Goliath, and a Mayfly vs. a King
On April 13, 2011, Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission posted ‘Agency Review’ comments to the Highland Wind LLC permit page of their website. These comments are solicited from different state agencies which may have opinions on--or knowledge about--the potential impacts of a development such as the industrial wind project proposed for Highland Plantation’s mountains.
What I read from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife caused a wide grin. An ease of pressure in my chest. A lightening of my heart. For the first time in a year and a half, a Maine State Agency had actually given me a ray of hope. Not just hope that the Highland project could be defeated, but some optimism that perhaps the people and the natural resources of Maine will not continue to be sold down the river.
These comments show beyond any reasonable doubt that Angus King’s and Rob Gardiner’s proposed development is not suited for Highland’s mountains. That if built, the turbine facility will cause grave—if not irreparable—harm to the wildlife, ecosystems and environment of the region… harm which may very well have a cumulative effect on species in other parts of our state. The concerns addressed in the IFW’s comments are just a few of the many which we have been speaking about ever since the development proposal was first made. Finally, a state agency has acknowledged that we were right.
Below are a few of the highlights from the report.
“Northern Bog Lemming. We have significant concerns that the proposed development will have undue adverse impacts to this series of wetlands along Witham Mountain and believe that maintaining the integrity of this complex is critical to the local population of this Threatened species.”
“Roaring Brook Mayfly (State-Endangered) and Spring Salamander (State Special Concern)… The magnitude of project area within occupied stream habitat is of great concern and poses a high potential for undue impact to both species.”
Bats: “MDIFW is greatly concerned that this proposed project poses a significant long-term mortality risk to both resident and migrant bats.”
“Nocturnal Migrants and Diurnal Raptors: The passage rates of nocturnal migrants and diurnal raptors through the project area are among the highest reported for projects in Maine…The proposed Highland Wind Project has some of the highest recorded passage rates through the rotor-swept zone, and is among the highest passage rates (targets/km/hour) of any project reviewed by MDIFW…Absent a commitment by the applicant for significant operational mitigations (e.g., seasonal curtailment of turbines during migration periods), there are no plausible strategies to mitigate risks to migrating birds at this time.”
Vernal Pools: “MDIFW contends that the applicant has not yet provided enough information demonstrating that impacts to SVPs (Significant Vernal Pools) cannot be avoided entirely.”
Conclusion: “We conclude that the collective wildlife concerns detailed above demonstrate that this is not an appropriate locality for an intensive wind energy installation such as that currently proposed by Highland Wind Power.”
So, there we have it. A State Agency has determined that the Highland wind project poses a serious risk to Maine’s wildlife and the habitat which supports it. Will this be enough? Will our former governor care more about the state he once shepherded, than he does about building his industrial wind development? Will this cause him to withdraw his permit, when nothing else has? Once upon a time, I would have thought, ‘yes’. Once upon a time I was naïve and trusting, and I didn’t fathom the deep-seated desire to make money, no matter what the costs to neighbors, natural resources, or a way of life.
But now, I’m not so sure. Now, I’m cynical. I seem to look for the negative in everything positive. Now, I am picturing other scenarios… none of which bode well for the inhabitants of this region.
I think about the millions of dollars Mr. King is quoted as having spent on compiling his application, and I wonder if he and Mr. Gardiner can turn back. Are they willing to let it go, or are they thinking that—since they’re already in for a penny, they may as well be in for a pound, and they should fight this to the bitter end on the off-chance that they’ll be successful? That their investment will secure those great rewards they’ve been seeking?
If that is what they decide, what will happen next? Will the owners of Highland Wind LLC attempt to offer ‘mitigation’ to the IFW, in the hopes that the department will take their money and drop their opposition to the project? As pertains to these wind developments, ‘mitigation’ is an act where a wind developer offers to protect the flora and fauna in another area of the state by establishing (or enabling the establishment of) a conservation easement, in exchange for being allowed to endanger or decimate the flora and fauna in the location of the proposed development. While the state of Maine has made mitigation an acceptable practice, that doesn’t make it a good one. It’s an ‘I’ll kill a baby here-- but build an orphanage there’ way of doing business which I believe is wrong.
There are still many questions which need to be answered. LURC deemed Highland Wind LLC’s permit application ‘complete’, so intervenors must move ahead within the compressed time mandated by the expedited permitting law and do our best to make our cases. But, while considered ‘complete’ by LURC, there are still many unanswered questions about the application which make it difficult for those who oppose the project to defend our positions.
The applicant was not required to supply the model, make and size of the turbines. That fact puts us at an unfair disadvantage when we must argue the case about sound and how it will affect those living within two miles of the project.
The applicant was not required to prove title, right or interest to all portions of the transmission path from the project to Wyman Station. We know for a fact that Highland Wind LLC does not have all those required deeds, easement and permits, but still… they were allowed to move ahead.
The applicant was not required to prove they have the financial capacity to build their project, either. Instead, they were allowed to submit vague letters of qualified support from financial institutions-- letters which clearly stated that they were not loan guarantees.
And what about the ‘tangible benefits’ section of the application? Will the Department of Conservation (the same department which LURC—the agency deciding whether or not to grant the permit—falls under the jurisdiction of) accept the $750,000.00+ that Mr. King and Mr. Gardiner are offering? If not, who WILL be the next beneficiary of their largesse? Where will the money have the most effect? Will it be offered to the residents of Highland Plantation? The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife? The Arnold Expedition Historical Society?
In a perfect world, these questions wouldn’t need to be asked. But I’ve come to realize that this world is far from perfect, and that money often rules the day.
But… not today. Today, the People are going to be victorious. If my instincts are right, a critical region of this state will be preserved. And that will be, in part, due to the meticulous and admirable work of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
As a woman whose father retired from that Department, I’m feeling very proud.
Photo of turbine blades and nacelle taken in Freedom, Maine-- Beaver Ridge Wind Development