your connection to The Boston Globe

Critics say Redington wind power recommendation is illegal

FALMOUTH, Maine --A group of environmental and hiking organizations claimed Thursday that a recommendation by the staff of Maine's wilderness zoning board to approve a controversial wind power project in the state's western mountains is illegal.

But the groups, including Maine Audubon and the Appalachian Mountain Club, stopped short of vowing to initiate a court challenge if the Land Use Regulation Commission gives the green light to the plan to build 30 wind turbines on Redington Pond Range and Black Nubble Mountain.

LURC is scheduled to vote on Maine Mountain Power's application Wednesday in Farmington. The commission usually, but not always, goes along with staff recommendations.

At a news conference, Jenn Burns of Maine Audubon said the proposal failed to demonstrate that it would create no "undue, adverse impacts" and that it is consistent with LURC's Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

Burns said the LURC staff dismissed the values of "remoteness and the relative absence of development" cited in the plan and embraced a "human dominated landscape" in the western mountains as a suitable substitute.

She said the deference that the 116-page recommendation displayed toward the developer sets a bad precedent. "The bar it creates is so low that every future project would be able to walk right over it," she said.

LURC Director Catherine Carroll said the staff recommendation, which she helped write, was reviewed by the Attorney General's Office and it's "nonsense" to assert that the proposed rezoning violates the law.

"If this was a potentially illegal decision, I would have known about it and it would not have been released to the commission," Carroll said.

She said she expects that Wednesday's meeting will produce a "thumbs up (or) thumbs down" decision on the application, with the votes of four of the seven LURC members needed for approval. The developer and the interveners will be permitted to make brief comments but no new evidence may be introduced.

David Field of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy said he was distressed at the proposed development's impact on views enjoyed by hikers along the trail.

Unlike radio towers, roads, buildings and ski trails, the wind turbines will introduce motion to the landscape through rapidly moving blades so huge that they can be seen clearly throughout their range of motion, Field said.

He said that if the project is approved, no Maine mountain, other than perhaps Katahdin, Bigelow or Cadillac, would be off-limits to development.

The organizations, which were interveners in last year's hearings on the Redington project, emphasized that they recognized the need to expand the nation's sources of renewable energy and support the development of wind power in other protected mountain zones.

The $130 million project, put together by a subsidiary of California-based Edison International and Endless Energy in Yarmouth, is designed to produce enough electricity to supply 40,000 homes while eliminating more than 730,000 pounds of pollution per day from existing power plants.