Boston-based First Wind LLC proposes to build a 20-mile utility corridor with at least 62 turbines, running from the Kennebec to the Piscataquis River, through the northeast corner of Bingham, along the Brighton town line in Mayfield, and through Kingsbury, Parkman, and Abbot.
The route is directly in line with the proposed East West Highway Corridor being promoted by Cianbro.
The plan is being rushed through with limited Public Notice and no Public Hearing.
Equipment staging for First Wind’s Corridor would take place nearby former radar site in Moscow that is now owned by Cashman Inc (wind developer) & Cianbro.
Much of the land it would run through is owned by Linkletter, E.D. Bessey, and Plum Creek.
The route would run along ridgelines between where numerous water sources originate feeding area wells & town water supplies, serve as fertile spawning grounds for brook trout, and flow into both the Kennebec and Piscataquis Rivers.
The route parallels the Appalachian Trail for many miles, and is only 6.5 miles from some of the wildest sections of the trail.
First Wind would be allowed to use the powers of Eminent Domain to expand if needed.
It would allowed to be do aerial pesticide spraying along the route.
Conversion to a Pipeline or Transportation Corridor?
At the Parkman town meeting in February 2013, First Wind representative Dave Fowler admitted that the terms of the easement could allow expansion from a utility corridor to a pipeline or transportation corridor.
More recently, at a Kingsbury Assessors meeting, First Wind’s rep stated that their proposed Wind Corridor is not intended to turn into an East West Highway Corridor. At the same time, he mentioned that Cianbro is in discussions with the landowners involved with the First Wind Corridor about securing land for their East West Corridor.
The route connecting the Piscataquis & Kennebec could effectively serve as a section of the proposed East-West Transportation Corridor.
Publicly Funded Subsidies Required
If the project is permitted by December 2013, it will qualify for Federal Investment Tax Credits that would cover 30% of construction costs.
Connecticut recently enacted a new Energy law that requires 175MW of its electricity come from qualified Renewable Energy projects.
First Wind is seeking a contract to provide all of Connecticut’s “renewable” power needs from this one project in Maine.
The First Wind application is currently before the Department of Environmental Protection, which is expected to make a decision on permitting the project by November 2013.
An East-West Wind Way?
In 1760 British Lieutenant John Montresor hired Abenaki guides to help him make two trips between Quebec and the Kennebec River. He was surveying their trails in the area to map out suitable east-west military travel routes between Canada and Maine.
In 1764, Massachusetts Governor Bernard sent an expedition to study the feasibility of building a road from the Penobscot River to Quebec. When the surveyors met with local guides at Penobscot Island in Old Town they were told they would not be allowed to make maps of the trails. Montresor’s less-than-complete maps of the journey across numerous mountains, hills, ridges, lakes, rivers, and streams, and bogs were used by Benedict Arnold’s company in their ill-fated march to Quebec.
Despite the early challenges to finding an easy-to-travel east-west road from Canada to Maine, the proposal has resurfaced throughout the years.The Maine legislature considered a proposal for an East West highway in the 1930’s and again in the 60’s. Route 2, 9, 16 and 201 have served to varying degrees in the role of east-west highways, and expansion of those routes was studied by the Maine DOT in the 90s. The most recent proposal for an East West Corridor (EWC) was introduced in 2008, promoted by Cianbro CEO Pete Vigue, former DEP Commissioner Darrell Brown, Canadian-megalith Irving, and assorted lawmakers in Maine and the Maritimes.
The path for the corridor has continued to be a subject of controversy and incomplete maps. No route has been unveiled showing any detail of the proposed corridor. Based on statements by EWC promoters, combined with limited information being received by local planning board members, selectmen, legislators, and county commissioners, the route for this proposed East West Corridor would appear to come into Maine from the west by Lac Megantic, passing through the Boundary Mountains and Bigelow range, crossing the Kennebec somewhere south of the Forks but north of Madison, running roughly parallel to Rt 16, staying just south of the Piscataquis River and the Appalachian Trail, crossing the Penobscot somewhere north of Old Town, then running between Rt 9 and the Golden Rd east to Calais or a bit north where it would cross into New Brunswick.
The 2008 version of an East West Highway includes more than just a transportation corridor, with plans for a utility and pipeline corridor running parallel to the highway being central to the proposal.
In 2012, the Maine legislature voted to pull funding for a Feasibility Study on the Highway. Following the vote, momentum behind the Highway proposal appeared to wane. While the official position of Vigue and Brown is that a highway is still imminent, talk among legislators and investors close to the project is that the highway proposal is a long way off, and no investor is currently interested in funding a transportation corridor.
There is much more investor interest in funding a utility corridor, however, with government funding available for “green energy” utilities and gas pipeline construction. In 2009, First Wind LLC of Boston
announced plans to build the largest wind utility corridor in New England, running from the Kennebec to Piscataquis River watersheds. It would run parallel to the Appalachian Trail only 6.5 miles to the north. It also happens to be directly in line with the route being sought by developers for an East West Corridor.
First Wind’s proposed “Bingham Wind” corridor would include at least 62 turbines, and run almost 20 miles east-west, spanning Somerset and Piscataquis County. Seventeen miles of 100-foot wide corridors are required for the generator lead line alone. Most of the land for the proposed corridor is owned by Linkletter & Sons Forestry, E.D. Bessey, and Plum Creek. Equipment staging for the wind corridor would take place at the former radar site in Moscow that is now owned by Cianbro.
Approval of First Wind’s application was delayed in December due to the presence of threatened bats in the area. Little brown bats and northern long-eared bats are currently being evaluated for listing under the Maine Endangered Species Act and the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and are threatened by White Nose Syndrome (WNS), a rapidly spreading fungal disease that has made its way to Maine. First Wind claims that its development would not harm local bats since the majority of documented bat fatalities at its other turbines sites are migratory species, while the species most affected by WNS hibernate in the local area, so would be less likely to be by the turbines during migration.
In response to concerns about impacts on known Eagles in the area, First Wind’s application states that, “Although there are confirmed Bald and Golden Eagles in the area, the distance to the Bald Eagle nest is far enough to minimize any potential hazard. The known Golden Eagle in the area has been found deceased in Canada. Although there may be other Golden Eagles in the area, we believe the project is on the edge of the core area typically used in Maine by Golden Eagles, and is far enough away from their likely locations.”
Throughout the application, First Wind emphasizes that the area impacted would be “edges” of habitat, ignoring the fact that the edges are home to some of the most diverse mix of plants and wildlife, and essential habitat to many species. It also ignores the impact of drift and runoff from herbicide application. Aerial herbicide application has already taken place to clear large swaths of ridgetop land for meteorological towers. The terms of the corridor easement would allow ground and aerial herbicide application to maintain the right of way.
The proposed corridor would run along ridgelines between where numerous water sources originate, feeding area wells & town water supplies, and providing as fertile spawning grounds for cold water fisheries. The generator lead alone would require clearing 206 acres, passing over at least 34 streams, running close to streams that provide habitat for northern spring salamanders, including 24 streams designated as Atlantic salmon critical habitat.
On August 29, Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologist Charles Todd sent a letter to the DEP about the project stating, “Biologists in this Department continue to have genuine concerns regarding potentially significant impacts to aquatic resources in headwater streams. …The extent and scale of the Project are substantial. Ecologically, the region’s marked interspersion of streams with mountainous terrain elevates concern for aquatic resources to a greater extent than many wind energy installations in Maine.”
The letter continues, “Stream surveys focused only on waters in the Project footprint without apparent regard to nearby, downslope streams potentially vulnerable to stormwater or altered hydrology. Each of the five watersheds in the Project area contain brook trout, while two contain unique populations of wild reproducing rainbow trout (Gulf Stream, Austin Stream). Northern spring salamanders and several rare mayflies are Wildlife Division concerns that also frequent clear, cool, high-gradient streams.”
Todd’s letter emphasizes that it is difficult for the Department to determine the full impact of First Wind’s proposal since, “Stream locations are not evident on any Project plan.”
Stream locations are only one of many key pieces of information missing from First Wind’s plan.
First Wind plans to blast millions of tons of rock, crush and pack it into 40+ 3.5 acre sites and 17 miles of ridge top roads that will have to handle hundreds of heavy, long loads. There is extremely limited information on the proposed blast sites, with only one test hole and one core sample from Johnson Mountain.
A letter to the DEP from Brighton Planning Board member Michael Vernon, who lives downstream of the proposed corridor, states, “As a licensed site evaluator familiar with soil types and topographic geology, I do not think the applicant has done anything close to an adequate job in evaluating and testing areas where blasting is planned.”
Local residents know that the mountain and ridges contain heavy metals, copper oxide, iron oxide, oily carbon black, and other minerals. As the millions of tons of crushed rock are leached by rain, wind, snow, freeze, and thaw, the currently high quality groundwater and streams will suffer the effects.
The IF&W letter also points out that the clearing necessary for blasting and construction will result in a loss of shade and increase in water temperature, “directly impacting resident and downstream coldwater fisheries. …Trees will have difficulty taking root in compacted soils and on blast rock, especially where soil depth and the sub-layer of rock already hinder establishment of woody vegetation. Reclaimed areas will also have significantly altered capacities for infiltration. Areas of compacted soils will resist water movements to soil depths and runoff volumes will increase as will the potential for shear slope failures. Areas of loamed blast rock may unnaturally increase infiltration.”
Old mines exist all along the proposed East West Corridor, and that fact has not escaped notice of investors, especially with Maine’s mining rules being relaxed. First Wind’s proposed corridor contains several old slate and other mining sites, and it appears that the company will gain mineral rights to any materials it blasts and removes while building the corridor.
All of the proposed turbines are within Maine’s “Expedited Permitting Area,” and the DEP has thus far refused to grant a legally-binding Public Hearing on the project, despite multiple requests from area residents and landowners. First Wind has stated that it can only secure necessary investors if it receives at least 30% of construction costs from Public funding. It originally sought funding from Federal Production Tax Credits, but with that source uncertain, the company is securing tax-breaks from local towns and counties, and seeking contracts with Massachusetts and Connecticut to purchase majority of their mandated “Renewable Energy” from First Wind’s proposed developments in Maine.
If approved, First Wind’s corridor could be easily expanded to include pipelines or a highway. Maine’s laws governing Utility Right of Ways and Corridors enable a corridor developer to easily expand allowed uses, gain land by eminent domain, and block local people from having any significant say in decisions around how the project develops. At a February 2013 town meeting to approve a tax break for First Wind in Parkman, First Wind representative Dave Fowler admitted that the terms of the easement could allow expansion from a utility corridor to a pipeline or transportation corridor.
With so many unanswered questions, and so much at stake, local people are circulating petitions calling for the DEP to slow down approval of this project, and grant a Public Hearing where these concerns could receive needed attention. So far, neither the Appalachian Mountain Club nor the Maine Appalachian Trail Club is opposing this project, and Maine Audubon has partnered with First Wind to promote their plans, with the company recently becoming a top donor, gaining in “Eagle” status. If you are a member of any of these groups and have concerns about this project, it is important they from you.
More information on First Wind’s proposed corridor can be found by emailing the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org