Public hearing set on financial contributions from proposed wind farm

COLUMBIA — Those who own property on Schoodic Lake have a chance to benefit from a proposal known as Downeast Wind.

Exactly how they will benefit will be determined in part from their input to the Washington County Commissioners. But, cautioned Commission Chairman Chris Gardner, the county can’t stop the project.

“The county’s role in this is not to approve or disapprove the project,” he said. If the proposal meets all legal requirements, it will move ahead.

Downeast Wind, proposed by Apex Clean Energy of Charlottesville, Va., would involve the construction of 30 wind turbines on 22,000 acres the company is leasing off Route 1 in Columbia and townships 18 and 24 in the Unorganized Territory.

Apex hopes to have the wind turbines constructed and running by October 2022, according to Paul Williamson, a senior development manager with the company. To that end, Apex plans to apply for permits in March from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the state’s Land Use Planning Commission, which governs the Unorganized Territory.

Both Columbia and the Unorganized Territory are considering the establishment of Tax Incremental Financing districts, in which a new or expanding business can receive tax incentives without adversely affecting the state funding amounts received by the municipality or school. The municipality establishing the district and the business in question negotiate the terms of how each will benefit.

Apex has proposed a $500,000 payment to Washington County for infrastructure improvements, with $350,000 of that earmarked for property improvements on Schoodic Lake, said Williamson.

In order for that to move forward, a public hearing was required. Anticipating the possibility of misinformation about the project and the approval process, the county scheduled two hearings — one took place Jan. 9 and the other is scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13, at the Washington County Courthouse in Machias.

“We added this kind of pre-public hearing to flesh out all the details that we could,” Gardner said, calling that first meeting a “dress rehearsal.”

An estimated 60 to 70 people attended the Jan. 9 hearing, which lasted more than two hours.

“There was a lot of emotion in the room,” Gardner said, adding that it wasn’t until near the end of that meeting that the discussion addressed the appropriate topic. That was when a woman asked if the property improvements would actually happen and another property owner asked if the details on those improvements could be put in writing.

“As commissioners, this is exactly what we want to know,” Gardner said. “If you guys can’t tell us, how can we best ensure that you get what you need?”

Schoodic Lake property owners do not have a formal association, so Gardner instructed them to talk to each other informally and decide what they would want so for discussion at the Feb. 13 meeting.

“At least make an honest attempt to come up with some ideas,” he said.

Gardner told property owners that coming back in February and saying they need more time to come up with ideas will not stall or stop the project. The Land Use Planning Commission would, instead, negotiate a deal at its own discretion. Because only one of the commission’s 10 members — Betsy Fitzgerald — is from Washington County, the group could decide on terms that benefit regions outside the local area.

Correction: An earlier version of this article contained an error. The upcoming public hearing is scheduled of Feb. 13.

Johanna S. Billings

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Johanna S. Billings covers eastern Hancock County and western Washington County. An avid photographer, she lives in Steuben with her husband and several cats. She welcomes tips and story ideas. Email her at [email protected]

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