FMM Announces Major Conservation Funding
In losing legal battle over wind project, FMM achieves significant natural resource wins
From Rand Stowell, FMM's Founder & Chairman
You may recall that FMM led the legal opposition against the Bingham Wind Project, which was proposed a few years ago by First Wind (now SunEdison). We formally raised numerous objections but in 2014 the license was granted under Maine's permissive wind siting standards. When we appealed the decision, the appeals board ultimately rejected all seven issues that our appeal raised.
The project is now under construction, sadly, but I have some good news to impart: all was not lost.
After months of negotiation, FMM and SunEdison have found common ground on preserving significant Maine natural resources.
Thanks to the incredible efforts of Chris O'Neil, FMM's VP of Public Affairs, SunEdison will dedicate $2.75 million to several organizations with the funds used exclusively for critical conservation projects. These include mountain trail creation and maintenance, land acquisition, and the protection of wildlife.
A conservation fund was created as one part of an extensive agreement between SunEdison and FMM following the approval of the Bingham Wind Project. After the project was granted its license by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), FMM agreed to cease the litigation in exchange for the provisions that SunEdison has agreed to.
We were obviously disappointed to lose our fight against the biggest wind project in Maine, but we are happy that we could ensure considerable good is coming from it.
Under the terms of the agreement, FMM spent months interviewing Maine conservation organizations to identify and determine what projects were most critically in need of funding. Given recent Maine history in conservation funding, FMM found no shortage of worthy projects.
Here is an excerpt from our press release:
“I thought spending 2.5 million dollars of someone else’s money would be easy,” said Chris O’Neil, the independent public affairs and policy consultant who negotiated both the FMM-SunEdison agreement and the various conservation deals. “But my client quickly learned it could have funded 25 million dollars worth of desirable projects, had the money been available. That said, we are pleased to recoup so much good from such a big loss.”
Beneficiaries for the first $1.5 million include the Trust for Public Lands, the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust, the Forest Society of Maine the Atlantic Salmon Federation, and Mahoosuc Land Trust. The conservation projects are located across Maine, from the western mountains through the Moosehead and Hundred Mile Wilderness regions to Katahdin. FMM is not a beneficiary of the fund. (See a list of the organizations, contacts and the funded projects by clicking here.)
The deal contains more than conservation funding:
- SunEdison will not build future wind projects in agreed-upon sections of Maine. See map by clicking here. For a smaller JPG file click here. A key part of this “Exclusion Zone” is a 15 mile buffer from both Baxter State Park, and from either side of Maine’s 281 mile Appalachian Trail. While this no-build zone applies only to Maine's largest wind company, SunEdison, FMM thinks it sends a strong message to other wind developers: back off.
- $250,000 will be dedicated to research wind turbine bat deterrent technology. The grant will go to Bat Conservation International, which is conducting research on the brown bat species, which has been threatened in the northeast by white-nose syndrome.
- SunEdison has increased by 50% the decommissioning fund that it had to set aside for the Bingham Wind Project. Moreover, in years 5, 10, and 15 the fund must be re-evaluated and will be increased by at least 1.5% in each of those years. During the permitting process in 2014, FMM had objected to what we determined was an inadequate decommissioning fund being imposed by DEP under the terms of the permit.
Again, FMM was not pleased to see the Bingham Wind Project proceed, but we hope that the provisions of this agreement will soften the blow for Maine. It has been an arduous process but we finally have it finished, so now we can devote our full attention to our mission.
On behalf of FMM Directors Brad Blake, Bob Hale, Gary Steinberg, Tom Hinman, and myself, I publicly thank Chris O'Neil for putting all this together, and I thank you for your continued support of FMM!
For a complete list of the conservation projects click here.
For the full press release click here.
Friends of Maine’s Mountains contact:
Below are statements from the beneficiary conservation organizations:
“These funds come at a critical time when important conservation work is underway. They will help advance efforts not only to conserve key forestland and habitat, but also improve access and the opportunities for everyone to experience remarkable Maine landscapes,” said Wolfe Tone, The Trust for Public Lands Maine state director. “We thank the partners involved for the dedication and commitment to create a positive result.” (Click here for TPL project descriptions.)
“Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust is pleased that these funds have been made available for our work in protecting lands along the Appalachian Trail in Maine,” said Simon Rucker, executive director of the Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust. “For the A.T. community in Maine, the agreement that SunEdison will not build or expand wind projects in sections of the State of Maine, including a 15 mile exclusion zone on either side of nearly all of the Appalachian Trail and Baxter State Park, is excellent news.” (Click here for MATLT project descriptions.)
“The Appalachian Mountain Club is pleased that its projects to directly benefit Maine’s natural resources and the recreating public in the 100-Mile Wilderness region were selected for funding,” said Walter Graff, senior vice president of the AMC. “The funds will allow AMC to make tangible on-the-ground improvements by restoring trout habitat, and providing the public with improved recreational access through building new trails and connecting regional conservation lands.” (Click here for AMC project descriptions.)
“These funds will support a project that will conserve thousands of acres of high elevation lands around Whitecap Mountain, that are adjacent to 11 miles of the Appalachian Trail, and that include high-elevation, cold-water streams that are essential for brook trout and Atlantic salmon habitat in the West Branch of the Pleasant River. This will be a wonderful gift to future generations!” said Alan Hutchinson, Forest Society of Maine executive director. (Click here for FSM project descriptions.)
“This funding will help the Atlantic Salmon Federation open up nine miles of cold water tributary streams in the Piscataquis River for the benefit of salmon and brook trout,” said Andrew Goode, Atlantic Salmon Federation’s vice president. “Restoration of the larger Penobscot River has been the top priority of the Atlantic Salmon Federation for the past 15 years and this is an exciting next step in our restoration efforts. Thank you to SunEdison and Friends of Maine’s Mountains.” (Click here for ASF project description.)
“The Mahoosuc Land Trust is very pleased to receive funding from SunEdison and the Friends of Maine’s Mountains. The grant will help connect two critical habitats, the Ellis River Valley and Rumford Whitecap Mountain,” said Jim Mitchell, Mahoosuc Land Trust’s executive director. “This connection is especially important for wildlife in a time of changing climate. The project protects more than two miles of frontage on the Ellis River and provides outdoor recreation opportunities to residents and visitors in Western Maine.” (Click here for MLT project description.)