Offshore wind debate produces parallel universes on Monhegan

By Dan Otis Smith | Mar 14, 2017
Source: monheganenergy.info An artist's rendering of how the Aqua Ventus turbines would appear looking south from between Christmas Cove and Norton's Ledge on Monhegan. Renderings were produced by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for the DOE and are available at the Monhegan Energy Task Force website. Travis Dow of Protect Monhegan said the group was looking into commissioning its own renderings of how the turbines would appear.

Monhegan — The Aqua Ventus wind project, comprised of two gigantic floating wind turbines proposed to be located about 2.5 miles south of Monhegan Island, has stirred up opposition and garnered support on the island and beyond.

At times, opponents and supporters sound like they could be talking about two entirely different projects.

“We had no reason to believe there would be two 600-foot turbines,” said Travis Dow, founder of anti-Aqua Ventus group Protect Monhegan. “It wasn’t part of the conversation.”

James Balano, of the Monhegan Energy Task Force created by the municipal government to gather and disseminate information on the project, has a different account. “It’s been almost four years that the project has existed in this form,” he said. “They [Protect Monhegan] should have been doing something way back in 2009 if they were being responsible about things.”

In the Project Monhegan version of the story, a consortium of uncaring corporate interests has come from away to crush the will of a vulnerable community and forever mar the view from an iconic Maine island. In this narrative, the University of Maine, in league with large corporations, has used bait-and-switch tactics to reach approval of a profit-seeking venture, with no regard for local sentiment or environmental impacts.

The other narrative says UMaine has devised technology that could revolutionize energy generation in the Northeast U.S., and, in near-constant contact with the local community over a span of years, has settled on the one location off Monhegan that could provide it with the research data it needs to one day commercialize the technology. This account says island residents have been well informed and many, if not most, support the project, which is not meant for profit.

Despite a small population that shrinks to just a few dozen in the dead of winter, and which remains small despite a swell of seasonal residents and visitors in the warmer months, it is not easy to tell where the island stands on Aqua Ventus.

Dow claims the support of a majority of registered voters based on a door-to-door poll he said he conducted after another island resident was quoted characterizing Protect Monhegan as unrepresentative of the community’s population.

Attorney Jon Doyle, a lobbyist and former assistant attorney general hired by Protect Monhegan last year after the group raised $40,000, said he thought about 60 percent of residents oppose the turbines, based on conversations with islanders.

Balano called such claims of majority support “bull.” He repeatedly emphasized that the town has only held official votes to determine whether to negotiate a community benefits agreement with Aqua Ventus and to hire a negotiator to do so, measures which passed by 31 to 1 and 30 to 0, respectively.

Balano also shared the results of three surveys of Monhegan residents conducted by METF, one in 2014 and two in 2016.

The most recent survey results show that, out of 112 respondents, which includes those who are not registered to vote, about 44 percent said they were either “very supportive” or “supportive” of the wind project, while about 40 percent were “opposed” or “very opposed,” and 16 percent were undecided.

Asked whether the town should work to get the project moved, however, 50 percent of 114 respondents said they supported the idea, while 36 percent were opposed and 14 percent were undecided.

Balano said he considered the results inconclusive.

But he, too, characterized Protect Monhegan as a vocal minority that was needlessly sowing division in the small community, and criticized the group for hiring Doyle and Portland public relations consultant Ted O’Meara.

Doyle and O’Meara have contributed to Protect Monhegan’s recent spate of op-eds in publications including Commercial Fisheries News, the Portland Press Herald and the Boothbay Register. And Dow said Doyle had connected with Sen. Dana Dow (R-Lincoln, no relation) about legislation the senator submitted in early February to prohibit wind projects within 10 miles of Monhegan.

For his part, Travis Dow said he and others felt the small town had been taken advantage of by big interests, along with a Legislature that approved the plan on a bipartisan basis eight years ago.

“We just don’t feel like it’s the right place to be experimenting,” said Dow, citing the island’s reputation as a “national natural landmark,” significance as a bird migration stop and economic dependence on tourism.

“People come to get away from industrial America,” said Dow. “They don’t come out here to see commercial turbines.”

Doyle, Dow and Balano all said the island’s nine or so lobstermen were in negotiations to receive compensation for loss of fishing waters due to the project, and most reportedly support it. However, none could be reached for this story; an email to five Monhegan lobstermen, and another to one in Port Clyde, where cables from the project may run, went unanswered.

Reporter Dan Otis Smith can be reached at 594-4401 x123 or by email at dsmith@villagesoup.com.

This diagram shows the scale of the proposed six-megawatt wind turbines and their floating foundations.
The project includes plans for miles of submarine lines to connect the turbines with CMP in Port Clyde.
Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Mar 15, 2017 17:07

Mohegan residents should decide this by majority vote. It seems like an intrusion of the serenity of small fishing areas and I question what the underground cables might cause havoc to.

 



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