Catherine B. Johnson, NRCM North Woods Project Director
My name is Cathy Johnson. I am the North Woods Project Director and Senior Staff Attorney for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. I have been with NRCM for 23 years. I am here today on behalf of NRCM’s 16,000 members and supporters to testify Neither For Nor Against the proposed project, but rather to provide information and comments which NRCM hopes Commissioner Aho will consider as she deliberates on this project. We appreciate the difficult but very important role DEP plays in taking into consideration both the clean energy benefits and the environmental impacts in specific decisions like this one on Bowers. Thank you for your service in this work.
NRCM is a strong supporter of both protecting the scenic and recreational resources of the state and developing renewable energy as one part of a strategy to limit climate change. We believe that the combination of the wind power law and the state’s environmental laws, including those designed to protect the undeveloped character of the North Woods, indicate that the State is also committed to both of these goals.
After reviewing the proposed Bowers project again, we have concluded that it is a close call whether the proposed project meets the legal criteria regarding the effect of the proposed project on scenic character and related existing recreational uses. Based on the information available, it appears that there will be clear adverse impacts on some scenic resources and related existing uses of statewide significance and adverse impacts on other scenic resources of statewide significance and related existing uses. We recognize and appreciate that the project has changed in noticeable ways compared to the original application, including the reduction in the number of turbines and the scope of views. In several cases these reductions are quantitative but do not necessarily lead to a significant qualitative change on otherwise largely undeveloped lakes.
In determining whether the adverse impacts are “unreasonable” or “undue,” it is important to consider the energy and climate benefits. It is this weighing of the adverse impacts to scenic and recreational resources against the benefits to our energy supply and climate that should lead you to the decision whether or not this project meets the criteria for approval. We recognize that several of Maine’s other environmental organizations are supporting this project in large part because of its significant climate and clean energy benefits. We are providing information we hope will be useful as you weigh these issues, but we are leaving to you the ultimate determination of whether the adverse effects outweigh the benefits or not.
Energy and Climate Context
It is important to remember the purpose of wind power and renewable energy generation in Maine. Maine and the region continue to be overly dependent on fossil fuels for power, a situation which is unsustainable both economically as well as environmentally. The impacts of our dependence on gas, coal, and oil may be out of sight much of the time, but they are clearly harmful and unsustainable to all living things and must not be out of mind. Climate change is one of the most dramatic negative effects of continued fossil fuel use, and will cause sweeping harms to Maine’s forests, coasts, fisheries, wildlife, public health and physical infrastructure. Here are two examples of this threat to Maine:
In 2011, the National Science Foundation issued a report finding “The rate of sea level rise along the U.S. Atlantic coast is greater now than at any time in the past 2,000 yearsâand has shown a consistent link between changes in global mean surface temperature and sea level.” Report co-author Michael Mann said the new research “points toward projected sea level rise lying at or near the upper range of current projections, more than a meter [3.3 feet] by the end of this century under business-as-usual carbon emissions.”
Some of the opposition to this project has come from fishermen and sporting guides concerned about impact on the recreational fishing economy. Even these interests face a difficult balance with wind power and climate change. In 2002, a report entitled Effects of Global Warming on Trout and Salmon in U.S. Streams concluded “We find that trout and salmon habitat is indeed vulnerable to the effects of global warming. Based on emissions scenarios from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we estimate that individual species of trout and salmon could lose 5-17% of their existing habitat by the year 2030, 14-34% by 2060, and 21-42% by 2090, depending on the species considered and model used.” These dates may sound like a long time away, but they are well within the lifetime of children now alive in Maine; children who may see Maine’s coastline re-written and 1/3 of trout stream habitat lost if society cannot change paths.
We must transition to a cleaner, more affordable future through several simultaneous policies, from energy efficiency to additional use of renewable energy available here in Maine. We have examined the impact of wind power in displacing pollution and fossil fuel energy, primarily natural gas, at great lengthâthe simple conclusion is that wind power can play an important role in displacing these fuels and reducing pollution levels. There is no comprehensive assessment of Maine and the region’s climate and pollution mitigation strategy that does not include a significant amount of new non-carbon dioxide emitting electricity generation. Essentially every objective analysis of renewable energy options reaches the same conclusion that wind power is one of the most cost-effective and abundant renewable energy source available, in Maine, across the country, and around the worldâwhich explains why wind power generation has rapidly expanded from less than 24,000MW globally in 2001 to more than 282,000MW in 2012. Wind power is successfully contributing to the nation’s energy mix, and here in Maine wind power has become an important source of clean energy. NRCM believes that the development of clean energy is essential, but we also believe that each project must be independently evaluated and considered in the context of other priorities, including conservation of scenic resources.
Wind Power Siting in Maine
Maine has taken some important steps to guide the development of appropriate wind power development, including by designating about 1/3 of the unorganized townships as “expedited” for wind power. It was clearly not the intention of the Governor’s Task Force on Wind Power nor the legislature for permitting authorities to give a rubber stamp to every wind project simply because it was proposed in the expedited area. In fact, the statutory criteria for receiving a development permit remain relatively similar to other forms of development.
7.2 million acres of the unorganized townships which includes just over half of the identified windy land in the state, are outside of the expedited area. Within the expedited area, wind project locations are not only constrained by wind power generation issues (such as the wind resource and transmission access), but by proximity to homes, impacts to sensitive wildlife and habitat, and impacts to scenic resources of statewide significance. Avoiding all conflicts is impossible, which reflects the fact that there are no easy choices for energy.
In 2011, the Appalachian Mountain Club published further analysis of wind power sites in Maine in order to identify areas with greater or fewer conflicts. They identified 268 windy areas (mainly ridgelines) in Maine (not including Bowers) and ranked roughly 70 of those to be among the most suitable sites, given a wide range of environmental constraints. All 70 had some predicted adverse impacts, and the large majority (52) of them were within 3 miles of a scenic resource. 30, or nearly half, of these more preferable sites were within 3 miles of 2 or more scenic resources of statewide significance. On the other hand, only 10 of these 70 more preferable sites were within three miles of four or more scenic resources. Proximity is not the same as impact, much less undue adverse impacts, for many reasons. However this analysis reminds us that wind power sites must meet multiple criteria for environmental and existing use impacts within a constrained world, and there are few, if any places, where no conflicts occur.
While Bowers does not have many of the potential conflicts that other wind sites have or may have (noise, wildlife habitat, high elevation, or long-transmission lines and is part of a semi-cluster of wind development) the impacts on scenic resources and related existing recreational uses are significant. Within the context described above, we urge the Commissioner to give careful consideration and due weight to these resources and impacts.
In joint comments submitted by NRCM and others to the Land Use Regulation Commission in 2010 regarding the potential addition of the Kossuth portion of Bowers into the expedited wind zone, we wrote “The proposed area lies at the very northern edge of a large area around the Downeast lakes that was intentionally excluded from the expedited area because it represents a broadly treasured landscape with significant conservation valuesâwhere wind development was not appropriate for any expedited review. We continued: “The primary issue that must be considered by the Commission is the close proximity of the proposed expansion area to Pleasant Lake, a Great Pond with outstanding scenic value as determined by the Maine Wildlands Lake Assessment. The presence of Pleasant Lake was one of the reasons the southern portion of Kossuth Township was excluded from the expedited permitting area. There are also several other Great Ponds with statewide scenic significance within eight miles of the proposed area, and conserved and public lands in the vicinity.” We concluded: “We do not believe that the proximity of the proposed expansion area to Pleasant Lake, West Grand or Junior Lakes is sufficient grounds to reject the petition. In this case, the scenic impact of any proposed project can be evaluated during the development permit stage, when the impacts of the project in its entirety can be considered.” DEP is now the forum for making that fuller and more detailed analysis.
Significance of the Potentially Affected Scenic Areas
The areas of state or national significance that will be affected by this project include nine lakes with scenic resources of statewide significance. Four of the nine lakes, including one with outstanding scenic resources, are within 3 miles of the proposed turbines. The other five lakes are within eight miles of the turbines.
Pleasant Lake is a Management Class 2 lake under the Land Use Planning Commission’s (LUPC) lakes management system. Class 2 lakes are “accessible, undeveloped lakes with exceptional values.” The Land Use Planning Commission limits the density and intensity of development on these lakes to one unit per mile of shoreline.
There are three public lots within eight miles of the turbines, all of them within the Town of Lakeville. While two of them apparently have no views of the turbines, one of them, the 890 acre Keg Lake lot has frontage on both Keg and Duck Lakes. This lot includes the historic canoe portage route between Keg and Duck Lakes. The land surrounding the portage has been designated by BPL as a remote recreation area and there is potential for development of campsites and boat launch sites. (BPL’s Lakeville Lots Management Plan, p. 108-110.) According to information provided by the applicant, between 10 and 14 turbines would be visible from the publicly owned shoreline on the southwest shore of Duck Lake.
These nine lakes have significant or outstanding scenic resources. These lakes are the northern portion of one of the largest interconnected lake systems in the east that provides opportunities for multi-day loop canoe and kayak trips in a remote environment. The Appalachian Mountain Club’s lake canoeing guide, Quiet Water, describes this loop as “one of the best extended quiet-water loop trails in the state, especially when one detours for a few days into Scraggly Lake.” (See Exhibit A, attached, p. 153.) Scraggly is described: “Wild and remote, this is the paddler’s ideal lake: too shallow for most motorboaters and far enough from road access that you have to do some work to get here.”
In this lake system, you can paddle for multiple days, camping at primitive campsites on the shorelines and on islands; DeLorme’s Atlas shows at least eight sites within eight miles of the proposed project, and there are an unknown number of others. Sysladobsis, Bottle, and Pug/Junior Bay are part of the main loop trail; Pleasant, Scraggly, Shaw, Duck, Keg and Horseshoe are a short portage or paddle off the main loop or on the longer one way canoe trail that heads north and are wonderful places for paddlers wanting to explore quieter places. One may have to travel to the Boundary Waters in Minnesota to find as large a lake system with multiple opportunities for loop paddling and near by quiet lakes to explore. The jagged shoreline and coves of Scraggly, Shaw, and Pleasant are great places to look for wildlife and enjoy the wilderness character of the region.
According to LUPC’s Wildlands Lakes Assessment, there are only 284 lakes and ponds in LUPC jurisdiction with outstanding or significant scenic resources of statewide significance. We are unaware of any other wind project proposed in Maine that had as many as nine scenic resources with visibility of proposed turbines within eight miles. In addition, only 118 lakes out of the 2635 lakes and ponds in LUPC jurisdiction have been designated as outstanding scenic resources; two of these 118 lakes with outstanding scenic character would be affected by this project.
The significance of this area for remote recreation has been broadly recognized through the extensive land conservation activity that has taken place in the region in the last decade. The Downeast Lakes Land Trust and the New England Forestry Foundation, along with other conservation partners, have spearheaded conservation that has resulted in 350,000 acres of conserved land around the downeast lakes. Some of this conserved land is included in the Sunrise Forestry and Public Access easements. Easement lands within eight miles of the Bowers Project include land surrounding Pleasant and Pug Lakes, about three quarters of the shoreline of Scraggly Lake and the southeastern shore of Junior Lake. The easement land immediately abuts the proposed wind project, and is located within one mile of proposed turbines. (See Exhibit B, Map of Conservation Lands and Key Recreational and Scenic Resources within 20 miles of Bowers Wind Project.)
Almost $35 million of federal, state and private conservation funds have gone into this project already, and conservation efforts continue. The significance of the region is further enhanced by the current conservation project on West Grand Lake which was the number one priority conservation project in the country for the federal Forest Legacy Program in 2011 and which was awarded $6.6 million dollars from the federal government. This is clear evidence that the area is of “regional or national importance.” Although the ongoing West Grand Lake project is more than eight miles from the Bowers project, it is an integral part of the overall conservation effort which includes lands within eight miles of the turbines.
The conservation easement project was initiated by local guides who want to maintain the beauty and existing natural character of the region, including the areas within eight miles of the Bowers project. This naturalness is crucial for their guests and therefore for their own livelihood. The easement notes that one of the purposes of the easement is to “conserve and/or enhanceâ¦historic public recreation opportunities.” It also notes that it “provides and maintains a predominantly forested area” for recreational uses and that it “maintains a natural resource base for a tourist-based economy and corresponding employment opportunities.” (Typhoon LLC Easement, p. 2 – 3.)
Existing Character of Surrounding Area
All of the lakes are surrounded by relatively flat terrain, with some rolling hills. Because of the relatively flat terrain, the hills which do exist, including Almanac, Bowers and Dill Hill, are quite noticeable to lake users. As the applicant noted, users of those lakes which have views of Bowers and Dill, would see many of the turbines. (The number of turbines visible in almost all locations has been reduced compared to the original project. However, users of Pug would see 6 turbines, and users on the other eight lakes with visibility of the project would see between 10 and 16 turbines.) The entire area is under active forest management.
The character of the individual lakes varies. While all nine lakes would have views of the proposed turbines, some of the lakes have seasonal camp development on parts of their shorelines while others do not. Three of the lakes, Pleasant, Scraggly and Shaw have no residential development (although Pleasant has a wilderness lodge.) When you are on these lakes, you have a real sense of remoteness.
On the other end of the spectrum, Bottle and Duck both have a number of camps and have a less remote feel. They serve as “entry” lakes into the larger lake system; many paddlers will move quickly through those lakes so that they can linger in more remote places like Scraggly.
In between these two groups are Keg Lake, which is small but has only a few camps, and Junior and Sysladobsis Lakes which have a larger number of camps, but the lakes are much larger, many of the camps are screened with vegetation, and large sections of the lakes are undeveloped. Despite their shoreline development, these three lakes still provide an experience of generally undeveloped naturalness for paddlers.
In describing the character of the area, LUPC’s 2010 Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) notes: “Today the forest and fisheries continue to sustain the unique community in and around Grand Lake Stream Plantation. This community has more registered Maine Guides than any place in Maine. These professionals provide a vital link between visitors and the complex ecosystem of lakes, marshes, woodlands, bogs and their wildlife in an area scientists recognize as one of unmatched biodiversity.”
Expectations of Typical Viewer
There are clearly a number of different types of users of these lakes. They include motor boat users, fisherman, and day and multi-day paddlers. Some of our testimony focuses on these last groups because their uses and interests may otherwise be overlooked or under-represented.
Multi-day paddlers who come to these lakes, if they have done their homework in advance, will know that Scraggly, Shaw, and Pleasant Lakes are undeveloped, and will be in search of a remote wilderness experience. Guide books and web sites provide information to potential paddlers. One of the reasons people will travel long distances into the heart of the Downeast Lakes is precisely to find that remote wilderness experience. If people are simply looking for places to paddle on beautiful lakes where there is evidence of man-made structures, Maine provides many, many choices. But lakes that are undeveloped and interconnected, and that provide opportunities for multi-day loop trips in a remote setting are rare.
Protecting remote recreational experiences where they exist is an important policy of the Land Use Planning Commission. As LURC noted in its Bowers Wind Project Decision DP 4889, 2012, “Resources which provide remote recreational opportunities and resultant low levels of use are valuable, and thus in those situations it will consider low levels of use as contributing to the value of the resource.” It is important for DEP to take into account the location of the proposal, in the unorganized townships, and ensure that its decision is consistent with LUPC’s CLUP’s for the region.
Nature, Extent and Duration of Uses
The lakes within eight miles of the proposed turbines are used by multi-day paddlers and youth camps on a regular basis during the open water season. Trips in this region can last from two days to a week or more, depending on the paddler’s interests. One could spend several days in Scraggly Lake alone, exploring the twenty miles of “highly varied shorelineâ¦ along marshy coves and undeveloped islands.” (Quiet Waters, p. 166.) The more remote sections of most of the lakes provide opportunities for lots of wildlife watching. The fact that this is one of the most highly recommended areas in the most commonly used lake canoe guide for Maine attests to its importance.
If the character of this area is changed from one with opportunities for remote multi-day paddling, to one with multi-day paddling in the constant presence of man-made structures, many of those paddlers seeking a wilderness experience may go elsewhere â although that may mean going out-of-state. If these lakes lose their remote characteristics, they will become lakes like many others in Maine, many of which are more easily accessible, and there will be no reason to travel long distances to reach these lakes.
As mentioned above, it is important in reviewing the amount of use that a lake receives not to necessarily translate high use into a conclusion that the lake is more important and low use into unimportance. Lakes that are prized for their remote wilderness experience, almost by definition, will have lower use. As the LUPC has pointed out, low use can be a valued characteristic of a wilderness area, not an indication of lack of importance. And the inverse can be true. For example: while we did not take a position on the project, in our internal review of the Saddleback wind project proposed near Webb Lake in Weld, we noted that the impacted lake is very popular for recreational use and more developed. It is important in its own ways, but not as one of Maine’s more remote-feeling lakes.
The applicant has made a good faith effort to provide additional information about potential impacts on recreational users with its two user surveys. Although these surveys are an important review tool and yield some important information, we find that user surveys for remote areas continue to be an imprecise tool for measuring the possible impact of a project on recreational users. (Recreational use in remote areas can be impacted by a variety of factors, including weather, camp schedules, and simply serendipity. Even on the Allagash, one of our more heavily used remote water paddling routes, one can paddle for a week one summer and see only one or two groups, and the next summer, paddle for a week and see multiple groups every day. If one regularly sees multiple groups every day, it is an indication that the remoteness of the region is in danger of being lost.)
The user surveys confirm that the lakes are highly valued because of their scenic properties. 100% of the visitors to the three lakes surveyed ranked current scenic conditions of the area positively. 58% of those same people ranked the lakes with simulated wind turbines negatively. Many report that it won’t change their overall enjoyment or use (perhaps because they own property and are already committed to the region), although 15-20% of users on each lake report they would be significantly less likely to return if the wind project were built. Whether or not this is enough to cause concern is difficult to say because we don’t have detailed information about the type of users they represent and whether or not their use is tied to the specific and somewhat unique character of this chain of lakes.
Scope and Scale of the Potential Effect of Views of the Generating Facilities
The nine lakes from which the proposed turbines will be visible will all have relatively extensive views of the turbines. As mentioned above, a large number of turbines are visible from each of the nine lakes.
Those lakes where the impacts will be most adverse are those lakes with currently the most wilderness character (Scraggly, Shaw and Pleasant.) Pleasant Lake is less than 3 miles from the proposed project. Shaw is 3.5 miles from the nearest turbine and Scraggly is 4.1 miles. Large man-made structures will significantly impact the remote paddler’s wilderness experience in these lakes.
The rest of the lakes will have adverse effects that range in severity. Due to the more developed nature of both Bottle and Duck Lake, the impacts will be less adverse.
Both the applicant and Palmer have tried to categorize these impacts in numerical tables and matrices. While interesting, this numerical approach should only be considered as evidence and should not be determinative. Impacts on scenic character and the uses dependent on scenic character, cannot be reduced to numbers. Not all criteria evaluated in the matrices can or should be weighted equally, particularly when considering remoteness, which is increasingly rare in Maine.
In balancing the adverse impacts of this project with the benefits provided by renewable energy, we encourage DEP to consider that: 1) a significant portion of Maine’s wind energy resource is located in unexpedited areas that, as a policy matter, were intended to be more difficult to develop; 2) Maine has a strong interest and need to continue to develop wind power and other forms of renewable power as they become cost-effective; and 3) Maine has a strong policy interest in preserving the environmental integrity, remote character, and scenic resources of the state’s unorganized townships. As a result of legislative action last year, DEP now has the lead role in permitting projects in the unorganized townships such as Bowers and is therefore responsible for considering LUPC policies to protect remote recreation resources.
As we stated in our LURC testimony last year, it is a close call whether the proposed project meets the legal criteria regarding the effect of the proposed project on scenic character and related existing recreational uses. The impacts of the project have been somewhat changed, but the nature of the difficult task of balancing has not changed. For that reason, we are Neither For Nor Against the project, but are providing this information to assist the Department in its evaluation. Determining whether the proposed project will have an “unreasonable adverse effect on the scenic character or existing uses related to scenic character of the scenic resource of state or national significance” requires weighing and balancing a number of factors, only a few of which we have addressed in our comments today. As DEP decides the ultimate question of whether the project meets the required legal criteria, we encourage you to keep in mind both the potential benefits provided by, and overall need for, a source of clean, renewable energy and the specific adverse impacts that would be caused to nine significant or outstanding scenic resources of state significance and existing uses of those resources.
Thank you for your attention.
 Kemp, Andrew et al. “Climate related sea-level variations over the past two millennia.” Proceedings of the National Science Foundation. 2011.
 O’Neal, Kirkman. “Effects of Global Warming on Trout and Salmon in US. Streams.” Defenders of Wildlife & National Resource Defense Council. 2002.
 Publicover, David A., Kimball, Kenneth D., Poppenwimer, Catherine J.: Ridgeline Windpower Development in Maine; An Analysis of Potential Resource Conflicts, Appalachian Mountain Club, 2011.
 LUPC’s 2010 CLUP, p. 54.
 LUPC’s 2010 CLUP, p. 17.