By Bill Houston
There were so many inaccuracies and malicious statements in J. Dwight’s op-ed (“NRCM isn’t working in Maine’s best interest,” Feb. 14), that it was hard to know where to begin in responding. My initial thought was to ignore his relentless criticism of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, but I decided that the readers of the Sun Journal need to know just how off-base Mr. Dwight is.
I am a Bangor native, resident of Kingfield, registered Maine Guide, and long-time teacher at Skowhegan Regional Vocational Center. I also am NRCM’s board president, and proud of it.
Without NRCM’s work over the past 50 years, Maine’s environment would be in much worse shape. NRCM has helped clean up our rivers, reduce toxic pollution, and promote sustainable timber harvesting. Maine’s bottle bill and billboard ban wouldn’t exist if not for NRCM; nor would the Allagash Wilderness Waterway or Caribou-Speckled Wilderness area.
No wonder NRCM has received so many awards — from Down East magazine, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Wildlife Federation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and many others.
Dwight ignores these accomplishments to rail instead against NRCM’s work in three areas: wind power, Plum Creek and hydropower. Yet, with each of these, NRCM is firmly grounded with the majority of Maine people.
A recent opinion survey showed that 90 percent of Maine residents support wind power to help strengthen Maine’s economy and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. They are right. Nearly 300 Maine businesses have helped build the state’s current wind farms, and these projects already are generating enough clean energy annually to power 100,000 homes. This clean energy is displacing fossil fuels, contributing to our energy security and reducing air pollution.
Dwight’s claim that wind power will provide few tax revenues is just plain wrong. Maine’s approved wind projects will provide more than $75 million in tax payments to host communities over the next 20 years. For some small towns, this revenue may reduce property taxes by 60 percent or more.
Everyone agrees that wind power needs to be carefully sited, but we must move forward to reduce our over-reliance on oil, coal and natural gas.
Wind power is the fastest growing source of clean energy on the planet.
Dwight also is wrong about Plum Creek’s massive development around Moosehead Lake. Plum Creek was sent back to the drawing board three times by the outcry of Maine people, and because Plum Creek’s proposals repeatedly failed to meet legal standards. Rather than just opposing the plan, NRCM played a constructive role, hiring a land-use planning firm that worked with local residents to design an approach that would be better for local businesses and protect the Moosehead Lake region. Many features of NRCM’s alternative were included in Plum Creek’s final proposal.
As to rivers and hydropower, Dwight again is the one who is out of synch. The Penobscot River Restoration Project, which he maligns, is supported by communities all along the Penobscot River; Maine’s entire congressional delegation; multiple state and federal agencies; the hydropower company that owns the dams; plus countless anglers, business leaders, and local residents.
This project will open up more than 1,000 miles of upstream spawning habitat for sea-run fish, with no net loss in energy generation. Three dams will be decommissioned (two removed, the third equipped with an innovative fish bypass), while power generation will increase at six dams. The result will be a healthier river, with improved water quality and more abundant fish populations.
The Kennebec provides a great example of what can happen in the Penobscot. With the removal of two dams in the Kennebec, the river now has millions of migrating fish each spring — an outcome that has brought national recognition, a ringing endorsement from George Smith of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, and support throughout the watershed.
If the Big-A dam had been built in the 1980s, as Dwight wishes, it would have drowned one of the most scenic river stretches in Maine and destroyed the nation’s finest landlocked salmon fishery. As a river guide on the Penobscot when that battle was brewing, I can only say this: “Thank goodness for NRCM.” The Big-A would have killed guiding businesses, including mine and deprived thousands of people of the incredible experience of paddling the West Branch. Today, when I paddle and fish the West Branch with my family, I know that we preserved a priceless resource for future generations.
The facts show that NRCM has been a champion for every Mainer who cares about the future of this state. Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, protecting Maine’s treasured landscapes, and creating healthy rivers — these are important goals, and nobody has advanced them better than NRCM.