Conservationists seek more wind power money for Woodstock
The Woodstock Conservation Commission wants to add to the amount of money wind power developer Patriots Renewable must pay to the town as part of a “tangible benefits” requirement of state law.
The WCC would like to see the money used for land conservation.
In its application to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection for a wind project on Spruce Mountain, Patriot is proposing to pay "at least" $20,000 a year to Woodstock for 20 years, and provide a 1,000-acre conservation easement on its property that will allow public recreational use.
In the application, Patriot said the annual $20,000 payment “could be used by the community without restrictions.”
Woodstock selectmen accepted the package.
Such a benefit serves in part as compensation for the impact of a wind tower project on a town’s viewscapes.
Patriot wants to build 11 towers on Spruce Mountain. The Woodstock Planning Board has already approved a local permit application.
But two weeks ago, the Woodstock Conservation Commission met with a state official to discuss the possibility of increasing the tangible benefit under the DEP application.
The funds would be used “to manage for conservation,” according to Jane Chandler, vice chairman of the WCC.
“The Woodstock Conservation Commission met with Alan Stearns, Bureau of Parks and Lands, and representatives from Patriot's Renewables regarding the application for the Spruce Mountain Wind Project,” Chandler said last week. “As the towers are visible from state-owned parks and trails, BPL is involved in the application process. Little Concord State Park and the trails up Bald and Speckled Mountain will be affected by the view of the proposed tow-ers on Spruce Mountain.
“Although not finalized, an additional tangible benefit to offset the affected viewscape to state land was discussed, which would come to the Town of Woodstock to manage for conservation. This is state law that a tangible benefit may be assessed as part of the DEP review process, if state land is affected by wind tower projects.”
Funds for Buck’s Ledge?
Chandler did not provide details on how the WCC proposes to use the additional funds, if approved.
But in a discussion last week at the Woodstock selectmen’s meeting, Town Manager Vern Maxfield said the WCC “is trying to get money for Buck’s Ledge.”
Area and state conservation organizations have been trying for several years to raise funds to purchase a 644-acre parcel on Buck’s Ledge, a scenic backdrop for North Pond as viewed from Route 26.
At last week’s selectmen’s meeting, Maxfield and the board, who support the project, expressed worry that additional requirements could prompt Patriot to drop it.
If the project becomes a reality, Woodstock would gain more than $400,000 in property taxes.
Maxfield also told selectmen he had concerns about the appearance of negotiations for money as part of the DEP application process, and he said the board should not weigh in on it.
“If Patriot offers more money, it would look bad,” he said. “I don’t think the selectmen should support more money now.”
The board took no stand on it.
In late May, Maxfield was part of e-mail correspondences with the BPL’s Stearns and other interested parties about the concerns.
In addressing them, Stearns wrote:
“Why would Woodstock differentiate the grant of conservation easement from a grant of conservation funds?”
He also questioned the town’s position “if in fact [Woodstock] intends to accept the donation of non-conservation “community benefit funds.”
“Why are conservationists cast as opponents seeking to be bought, while the municipality is unapologetically receiving unrestricted cash on top of tax-assessed value?
“DEP guidance expressly allows cash payments to conservation interests toward conservation projects.
“BPL is not an opponent to windpower, but merely a review agency expressly supportive of windpower and this project, looking at a frustrating new law with too-little precedent or interpretation. Neither is WCC an opponent.”
Stearns also said that “if the Town of Woodstock declines tangible benefits for conservation or recreation purposes, BPL will accept them without apology, or suggest other recipients.
“BPL is seeking to establish that the Maine statutes intend for tangible benefits to buffer the impacts of wind projects, when those impacts are adverse but not unreasonably or unduly so.”
Stearns was asked last week for comment on the overall process, and on whether funds could be directed toward the preservation of Buck’s Ledge.
In an e-mail response, he wrote:
“I’m impressed that Patriot Wind is working to prove that windpower momentum in Maine can also add momentum to forest conservation and recreation opportunities.
“I’m optimistic that Patriot’s project in Woodstock will become a model for other communities.
“In my mind, renewable forest production is a good pairing with renewable windpower.
“I’m glad to see local conservation groups support-ing windpower as part of a larger vision for sustainable rural Maine landscapes.
“There are a lot of good potential forest conservation and recreation projects in Woodstock or nearby.
“I’ve been most interested in hearing from local groups like the Mahoosuc Land Trust and the Woodstock Conservation Commission about local priorities.”