Commission Handling Dozens of Petitions to Opt Out of Expedited Wind Development

Link to Original Article and Audio Stream

 | Maine Public Radio | FEB 22, 2016

Susan Sharon reports on wind development in Maine’s Unorganized Territory.

Townships and plantations in Maine have until June to opt out of being an “expedited permitting area” for wind development. Already there are nearly two dozen petitions that have been received by the Land Use Planning Commission.

Another 18 petitions are in circulation. But the agency is also hearing from large landowners who want to prevent the removal process from going forward without a formal review.

This is the first time since the Wind Energy Act was passed by the Maine Legislature in 2008 that residents of the Unorganized Territory can take steps to remove themselves from expedited wind permitting areas of the state. Last year lawmakers agreed to give them a six-month window to do so. The clock began ticking in January, and planning manager Samantha Horn Olsen of the Land Use Planning Commission says so far, the numbers are about what was expected.

“There are several hundred townships and plantations in the jurisdiction and so the number could be higher, however there places that are being considered for wind energy development where people are more likely to be interested and then others where that might not be so much of an issue,” she says, “and so you may not see people be interested in filing a petition.”

Getting a township or plantation removed from the expedited area does not ensure that a wind project won’t be developed, but it does mean that developers have to get zoning approval before they apply for a permit, something that is not currently required.

To qualify for removal, petitioners need to collect at least ten percent of residents’ signatures, based on the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election. In some places that might only be a handful.

Chris O’Neil of the group Friends of Maine’s Mountains has been trying to get the word out that there’s a June 30 deadline for what he calls a “unique opportunity.”

“We estimate that about 70 areas should take action on this,” he says. “Looking at the spreadsheets and the maps really lets you know that almost everywhere wind development wants to go there are people who live fairly close by.”

The process also gives stakeholders, such as landowners who object to removal, the opportunity to request a formal review.

And Patrick Strauch of the Maine Forest Products Council says he’s aware of several large landowners, members of his organization, who are concerned about how a land use designation change would affect their property and its future potential uses. They are now requesting formal review.

“The landowners have looked at the petitions that have been filed and figured out where there are areas they want to contest those petitions and that’s just the path we’re following that we set up through the legislative process,” he says.

Their request for review requires the Commission to confirm the residency of the petitioners, take comments and possibly hold a public hearing. Horn Olsen says it also requires the Commission to see if the petition for removal meets two fundamental criteria.

“The first one is that the removal of the place will not have an unreasonable, adverse effect on the state’s ability to meet the state goals for wind energy development,” she says. “And the second criterion is that it’s consistent with the principal values and the goals of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan.”

The Wind Energy Act was designed to cut through multiple layers of bureaucracy in a specific zone. But O’Neil says it neglected to give people who live in the area a voice. And he says it’s possible disputes over the the process for removing townships from expedited wind development will wind up in court.

Sunlight Media Collective Releases Documentary on the Battle Over Contested Penobscot River Territory

Indian Island, ME: On Friday, Sunlight Media Collective released

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The Penobscot: Ancestral River, Contested Territory,

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a documentary film that explores the conflict between the state of Maine and the Penobscot Nation over contested river territory. Spanning from the 1700’s to the present-day legal battle of Penobscot Nation v. Mills, the film illustrates the Penobscots’ centuries-long fight to retain their territory and their inherent, treaty-reserved sustenance fishing rights for future generations. Featuring first-person accounts, the film tells the urgent, inspiring story of a struggle for justice and cultural survival in the face of an astonishingly open abuse of state power.

The documentary release closely follows a meeting between Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis and President Obama, where they discussed the Penobscot Nation v. Mills case. The Penobscot Nation is suing the state of Maine in response to a decision by former Attorney General William Schneider that the Penobscot Indian reservation, which includes more than 200 islands in the Penobscot River, does not include any portion of the water— a decision that amounts to territorial theft by the state. Oral arguments for the case are scheduled for October 14th at the US District Court in Portland, ME.

 

The case is taking place in the context of a larger state battle over river jurisdiction and water quality standards. In February, the federal EPA ruled that Maine must improve its water quality standards to protect Penobscot sustenance fishing rights. Governor Paul LePage has called the ruling “outrageous” and threatened to relinquish state regulatory responsibilities to the federal EPA if they did not reverse the ruling.

 

The Penobscot: Ancestral River, Contested Territory chronicles the Penobscot’s struggle to maintain their centuries-long stewardship to ensure a healthy ecosystem for all of Maine, a struggle exemplified by these contemporary legal battles. According to Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis, the Penobscot v. Mills case “is really not about controlling the river system, or controlling individuals within the system. It’s really about our ability to manage a subsistence resource that we have a responsibility for, for multiple generations.”

 

Funded by Broad Reach Fund of the Maine Community Foundation, The Penobscot: Ancestral River, Contested Territory is available for free on the Sunlight Media Collective website (www.sunlightmediacollective.org), and DVDs are available by order. To schedule a screening, please email sunlightmediacollective@gmail.com.

 

The Sunlight Media Collective is a collaboration between Penobscot and non-native filmmakers. The film is just one example of an up-swell of activism and work on issues affecting the Wabanaki tribes. In October, Upstander Productions will also release a short documentary entitled First Light, on the recently completed Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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Screenings of The Penobscot: Ancestral River, Contested Territory currently scheduled:

October 21st, Belfast Free Library, Belfast, 6:00PM

October 24th, Gates Auditorium, College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, 1:30PM

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For more information, contact sunlightmediacollective@gmail.com.

 

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Tribes pull Reps. from Maine Legislature and go their own way

Photo by A.J. Higgins MPBN

Photo by A.J. Higgins MPBN

On Tuesday, May 26, Penobscot and Passamaquoddy leaders pulled their representatives from the Maine Legislature as part of a decision to work together, and follow their own leadership within their territories from here on out. It was an historic moment of bravery and leadership by the Tribes.

Here are two articles:
MPBN, Tribes Pull Reps from Maine Legislature as Sovereignty Issues Come to Boil

and

The Guardian, Two Native American tribes withdraw from ‘paternalistic’ Maine legislature

There was a press conference Wednesday afternoon as well and we will continue to post info here.

Flotilla on Penobscot River to Support Tribal Territory and Rights

flotilla 5-23-15

On May 23, 2015, people converged on the Penobscot River in Bangor to show their support of the Penobscot Nation’s rights over its ancestral territory- the waters of the Penobscot River.  The State of Maine issued a letter to the tribe in 2012, redefining the Penobscot’s territory to NOT include the River itself, a direct departure from historical treaties and previous interpretation of treaties and the Land Claims Settlement Act of 1980 by the State of Maine.

Around 150 people were present in boats or on shore to demonstrate their support.  Following is a video, news coverage, and photos of the event:

WABI-TV 5

BDN

3 minute video by Sass Linneken

photos by the Maine Paparazzi (including photo above)

Penobscot River Case and recent related programs from WERU

http://archives.weru.org/wabanaki-windows/2015/02/wabanaki-windows-21715/

http://archives.weru.org/radioactive/2015/02/radioactive-21915/

http://archives.weru.org/radioactive/2014/10/radioactive-103014/

http://archives.weru.org/radioactive/2014/08/radioactive-8714/

http://archives.weru.org/radioactive/2014/08/radioactive-81414/

http://archives.weru.org/radioactive/2014/07/radioactive-73114/

http://archives.weru.org/radioactive/2014/07/radioactive-72514/

EPA Decision: Maine Water Quality Standards Inadequate for Tribal Waters

Link to Original Article and Radio Program

  FEB 5, 2015 | Maine Public Broadcasting Network

Download audio file: 

      1. 02052015spsmix.mp3

AUGUSTA, Maine – In a decision that is being welcomed as “historic” by Maine Indian tribes, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has asked the state of Maine to revise some water quality standards for tribal waters.

The decision comes during ongoing litigation brought by the state against the EPA. Maine’s chief of environmental protection says it could have far-reaching consequences for discharge license holders.

In a communique to Maine Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patty Aho this week, EPA Regional Administrator Curt Spalding delivered the news:  that federal regulators disapprove of some state water quality standards established by Maine more than a decade ago.

Aho says she was stunned by the announcement that the standards could not be used on tribal waters because they’re not protective enough of human health, and of the tribes’ sustenance fishing practices.

“It is, in some cases, work that we thought had been approved and had been in place for many, many years,” Aho says. “So it is just simply, as I stated, breathtaking in the scope and the sweep.”

Breathtaking in its scope, Aho says, because of its wide implications for sewer districts, paper companies and other discharge licensees.  She says the EPA has not defined what it means by waters in Indian territory.  Nor, she says, has the agency indicated how it wants the state to revise the standards and on what scientific  basis.

“It’s asking us to redo something, but not telling us to what standards,” she says. “They’re not telling us which waters in the state, or what parts of those waters, we are to redo these standards.”

“We’re talking only about the waters within tribal reservations and trust lands,” says Ken Moraff. “We’re not talking about the waters upstream or downstream, although there could possibly be an effect on upstream dischargers.”

Moraff is the director of the Office of Ecosystem Protection for EPA. He says existing permit holders will not be affected by the decision. But when new water quality standards are adopted in the future, any new or re-issued permits would have to meet the new standards, which have yet to be established.

Moraff says the decision is significant from the EPA’s point of view, too. That’s because this is the first time the EPA has determined that state standards are inadequate for uses in tribal waters, including sustenance fishing.

Chief Kirk Francis of the Penobscot Indian Nation couldn’t be happier.

“For the first time ever, what the EPA has said is that tribal subsistence and sustenance-based rights are a determinant factor under the Clean Water Act,” Francis says. “So you have to acknowledge those differences while setting your standards within Indian territory. You have to respect those practices. You have to respect the human health issues and the cultural identity of the tribes within those areas where the standards are being set.”

As part of an ongoing lawsuit brought by the state against the EPA over jurisdiction to set water quality standards, the EPA has concluded that the 1980 Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act, which extinguished certain tribal rights, allows the state authority to set water quality standards in tribal waters.

But Matt Manahan, an attorney representing discharge license holders along the Penobscot River, says what the EPA is also doing is setting up a two-tiered system for the tribe.

“What this is saying is, notwithstanding the fact that the Settlement Act treats them just like any other citizens of the state, we’re going to carve them out and say because they would like to have standards that are more stringent than the standards that apply to everyone else in the state, even though the science doesn’t support that, we’re going to basically carve that out and give them special treatment for purposes of water quality standards,” Manahan says.

The EPA has given the state 90 days to establish new standards for tribal waters. Commissioner Aho says she’s working with the Attorney General’s Office to determine a response.

Alliance for Common Good hosts 3rd Annual Rally of Unity

A tremendous showing for community and tribal sovereignty, and water protection

Augusta – Over a hundred Maine citizens and representatives from dozens of organizations joined forces at the State House’s Hall of Flags for the third annual Rally of Unity. The overarching theme for this year’s rally was protection of our water resources and respect for community and tribal sovereignty. Featured speakers included Shenna Bellows, former candidate for U.S. Senate and former Maine Senator Troy Jackson.

Other speakers shared the podium addressing concerns around the critical need to protect water in Maine. With many potentially destructive plans looming in Maine, such as extreme water extraction/privatization, mountain-top mining and the exorbitant waste it produces, the East-West Industrial Corridor and pipeline, industrial wind, and more, organizations came together to speak in a unified voice informing Maine legislators what Mainers expect from their service. A current critical issue between the Penobscot Nation and the State of Maine government was one of the topics at this year’s rally.

“Sadly, Penobscot people are anxiously awaiting the fate of our river,” said Maria Girouard, Penobscot tribal member and founder of Dawnland Environmental Defense. In Augusta 2012, state government asserted its opinion to Penobscot Chief and Council that the Penobscot Indian reservation did not include the water. The Penobscot Indian reservation consists of over 200 islands in the Penobscot River. “Frankly, this redefining of our territory feels outright hostile. Maine government is supposed to be working for all Maine people, yet most people have no idea that this is happening. This current legal battle has the potential to last years and cost millions of tax payer dollars. What I would like to know is why Maine government is asserting its claim to the water? And on whose behalf?”

Larry Dansinger of Resources for Organizing Social Change and an organizer for this year’s rally said, “The Maine legislature has been passing too many bills that benefit the one percent and hurt 99 percent of Mainers. The public needs to demand laws that benefit the vast majority of Maine people, not just a select and powerful few.”

All individuals and groups participating in this third annual event are unified under the principles of: Reserving Maine money for Maine people; keeping money out of politics; respecting community and tribal sovereignty; and promoting an economy that protects, rather than compromises, our environment. In addition to speakers and songs, the rally hosted organization tabling and provided opportunity for networking and alliance building.

Alliance for the Common Good Members include: 350 Maine, 350 Waldo County, Ability Maine, Alliance for Democracy, American Friends Service Committee Wabanaki Program, Americans Who Tell the Truth, Artists Rapid Response Team, Bring our War $$ Home, CodePink, Community Water Justice, Dawnland Environmental Defense/ Justice for the River, Defending Water for Life, Don’t Waste ME, Food AND Medicine, Food and Water Watch, Food for Maine’s Future, Forest Ecology Network, Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, Friends of Penobscot Bay, Friends of the Piscataquis Valley, Global Network, Green Initiatives, anti-Industrial wind activists, Maine EarthFirst!, Maine Fair Trade Campaign, Maine Greens, Maine Peace Action Committee, Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, Maine Students for Climate Justice, Maine Veterans for Peace, Midcoast Peace and Justice, Occupy groups statewide, Pax Christi Maine, Peace Action Maine, Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine, Peace and Justice Group of Waldo County, PeaceWorks of Greater Brunswick/ Waging Peace, Peninsula Peace and Justice, Pine Tree Youth Organizing, Power in Community Alliances (PICA)/ U.S. El Salvador Sister Cities Committee, Resources for Organizing Social Change, Riverbilly Coalition for Natural Resources Preservation, SEEDS for Justice, Southern Maine Workers Center, Stop the East-West Corridor, TWAC (Trans and/or Women’s Action Camp), We the People Maine.

Here is WABI-5 news coverage of the event.

Here is a video of the full event.

Here are pictures from the event by the Maine Paparazzi, Roger Leisner.

Lastly, here is an independent article published in The Cryer by Lew Kingsbury:

The Most Successful Statehouse Event You Never Heard Of

In Maine, More Hipsters Choosing Life on the Farm

LINCOLNVILLE, Maine – The average age of a farmer in the U.S. is 58.3 – a number that’s been steadily ticking upward for more than 30 years.

The graying of America’s heartland is one indicator that farming isn’t a go-to career: Fewer kids are choosing a life on the land. But in some places, like Maine, the trend may be reversing.

Thanks to an availability of land and a cultural shift toward slow foods, hipsters are giving farming more than a passing glance.

It’s 10 degrees. The snow is crunching underfoot on this windy hillside in Lincolnville, just a few miles from the coast.  A trio of hairy highland cattle munch on flakes of hay, seemingly impervious to the bitter wind.  Nearby, a native breed of white sheep known as the Katahdin, are mustered just outside the fence. Heritage chickens scuttle about a mobile poultry house that looks a bit like a Conestoga wagon. Josh Gerritsen, a New York City photographer-turned-farmer, has created a small, agrarian ecosystem.

“The cows move through the pasture first,” he says. “They take the grass height from maybe 8 inches down to 4 inches. The sheep follow two days later, and then after that, the laying hens come in.  They spread out the cow patties, they clean up the parasites, and they get additional protein from the bugs.”

Gerritsen’s classic backyard farm supplies a small, loyal consumer base. He says his generation has found a niche market that doesn’t have to compete with agribusiness in the supermarket. It’s a hipster generation whose outlook has been shaped by the backdrop of climate change, who’ve come to embrace facial hair, the farmers’ market, craft beer, and artisan cheeses.

The focus, Gerritsen says, is on locally-produced goods of superior quality.  But it’s not a particularly easy or lucrative life. So why cash in an expensive college education to raise poultry?

“Just a few years ago, if you’d told me that I was going to be a farmer, I would have probably laughed at you,” says Marya Gelvosa, Gerritsen’s partner. She’s 29, majored in English literature, and had never lived in the country before. But she and Gerritsen have thrown all their resources into this fledgling farm in Maine, a career move which came as something of a surprise to her urban family.

“They definitely had their raised eyebrows, like, ‘Are you sure?’ ” she says. “Because, I mean, I grew up in the city. It’s just, I got the bug and I wanted to have this life where it gives back to the community and it’s very fulfilling work. And noble work.”

“I think that we want to be reconnected with the fundamentals of life,” Gerritsen says, “with growing food, with producing things with our own hands. Living in the city, you commute by subway, you buy your food at the supermarket, you work in a cubicle all day. You’re not intimately tied to anything.”

But how typical is this young couple in the farming landscape? It turns out, pretty typical for some areas of the country, not so typical for others, says John Rebar, executive director of University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

“Certainly in Maine, farmers under the age of 35 have increased 40 percent, when nationally that increase is 1.5 percent,” Rebar says. “So, in our state, we are way ahead of that national trend.”

And there may be several reasons why, he says. A big one is that relatively undeveloped states like Maine still have affordable land to offer – a luxury not seen in many other parts of the country. Farmland has become so expensive across the the Midwestern breadbasket, and in California’s Central Valley, that some financial experts have hinted at an actual “farmland bubble.”

And, says Rebar, Maine, which was a hotbed of activity during the first back-to-the-land movement in the 70’s, has many knowledgeable people working in the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, or MOFGA, which offers a training program for new farmers in how to do it old school in a new age.

“I think one big difference is a lot of the young people that are going into farming now are going into it looking at it very much as a profession, rather than a home-steading, self-sufficiency type of thing,” says 31-year-old Gene Ripley of Dover-Foxcroft.

Ripley’s parents were part of that earlier back-to-the-land movement, but even he didn’t consider farming as a career until a college trip to Thailand, where he visited a rice farm and realized that, not only could he live the good life, but he could help others live it as well.  Now, he and his wife Mary Margaret have put their political science educations from Bates College in Lewiston aside.

“We just finished our fifth season here on this farm, and it’s our sixth season farming on our own,” Gene says. “We farmed on leased land in Waldo County for one year before we found a property to buy.”

Jennifer Mitchell: “How many acres?”

“We have up there about five acres in production,” says Mary Margaret. “And so that includes the cash crops and the cover crops. And we did about two-and-a-half acres of cash crops this year.”

“We are getting to the point where demand is outstripping our supply,” Gene says, “and so this year we cleared a one-acre section of woods right here. And just last week, which is really exciting, we just hired our first full-time employee who is going to be starting in the spring.”

John Rebar, with Cooperative Extension, says that’s an accomplishment that should not be overlooked. If young farmers like the Ripleys can become successful in a 21st century economy, they’ll also become employers, and that’s especially important in places like Piscataquis County, which has seen its mill industry gutted.

There’s no doubt in Rebar’s mind that there is an agrarian Renaissance happening.

“I was called farmer by my classmates in high school. That was OK with me, but you could tell it wasn’t a term of endearment,” Rebar says.

But there’s been a cultural shift in attitude, he says. People are starting to understand the value of farms, the products they produce, and the role farms can play. Long-term success, he says, will come as people embrace the culture and support this new generation of producers.

And meanwhile? The hipsters are making it all look pretty cool.