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.

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


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.

Penobscot River Case and recent related programs from WERU

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.

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.

South Portland Tar Sands Ban Enacted

Maine Public Broadcasting Network | July 22, 2014

The South Portland City Council has voted to ban the export of Canadian tar-sands crude through the city, effectively ending any attempt to bring the crude from western Canada through a pipeline into the city. While there are no such plans in the work, Portland Pipeline Corporation Vice-President Tom Hardison spoke against the proposal.

“I continue to be concerned about the clearly intended consequences the passage of this ordinance will have on the energy industry in South Portland and the industry’s ability to adapt to and meet the needs of a dynamic industry and the energy needs of the region and North America,” Hardison said.

Crude from the tar sands of western Canada is fueling a surge in North American production, but environmentalists say tar sands oil is difficult to clean if spilled and dangerous to ship.

“It’s an awesome accomplishment,” says Emily Figdor of Environment Maine. “It really gives me hope that other communities that also are dealing with serious local impacts from tar sands infrastructure can come together and similarly protect what is so dear to them.”

South Portland councilor Michael Pock was the only “no” vote, as he was two weeks ago. Opponents of the new ordinance say the referendum could hurt the city’s economic future, though the ordinance was crafted to allow existing petroleum handling in the city to continue.

An attorney for Portland Pipeline Corp., Matt Manahan, warned the ordinance would be found to be pre-empted by federal and state law. But Sean Mahoney of the Conservation Law Foundation challenged that and said his organization will support South Portland if the city faces suit to overturn the anti-tar-sands ordinance.

Opponents of the ordinance will have 20 days to collect some 900 signatures to force a vote on the ordinance.


Maine Grandmothers Unite to Halt Plans for New Highway

Link to Original Article.

05/23/2014   Reported By: Susan Sharon
Frustrated by what they say is the failure of legislative and political efforts to stop the proposed east-west highway, a small group of grandmothers is taking matters into its own hands. The grandmothers have started holding monthly vigils in front of Cianbro headquarters. Cianbro is the Pittsfield-based construction firm that wants to build a 220-mile-long closed access toll highway that would stretch from Calais to Coburn Gore. As Susan Sharon reports, the grandmothers hope that their quiet persistence will carry a powerful message.
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GM Vigil

A group of grandmothers in the Pittsfield area gather to hold vigil against plans for a new highway across Maine.

Last month there were seven of them. This time there are 13 grandmothers standing in opposition to the east-west highway. They range in age from 54 to 90.

Carol Ippoliti“My name’s Carol Ippoliti and I’m from Charleston. And I’m one of the organizers of this group of women.”

Wearing lime green t-shirts with an anti-east-west highway logo, the women unfold lawn chairs on the corner in front of Cianbro’s headquarters, and quietly unfurl banners and set out signs that make their position clear.

“And we’re concerned about the woods, the wildlife, about our homes, our farms,” Ippoliti (left) says. “We’ve seen some maps and we’ve heard that one of the proposed routes would, like, split our town of Charleston right in two.”

“I don’t like the idea of the noise, traffic, air pollution, and I just like our community as it is,” says Charlene Peavey, who turned 75 last week.

Peavey has 15 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. She’s written letters to the editor before. But she says this is the first time she’s ever protested or publicly stood up for something in her life.

This issue, she says, is different. “This one just hits me in the heart.”

Many of the women didn’t know each other before they joined the grandmothers’ group. They come mostly from towns adjacent to Pittsfield. They have different political and spiritual views. But they’ve found common ground around their opposition to the east-west highway.

Darryl Brown is the manager of the project, which he says has been stalled for much of the past year. “That’s for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I’ve been heavily involved with the University of Maine with its offshore wind project,” Brown says, “and I’ve really spent much of my time on that up until just recently.”

But Brown says Cianbro remains committed to the east-west highway project and to the idea that it would make the state a player in the global marketplace.

GM Vigil Bonnie BouchardBonnie Bouchard (right), a grandmother from Charleston, says she appreciates what Cianbro does for the local economy. But she disagrees about the perceived benefits of what she calls a “super highway” through the woods and farms of central Maine.

“I know we’re going up against a lot of money here. And I know they bring jobs. I know they do a lot of good with hospitals and with a lot of local things,” Bouchard says. “We’re not saying that. We’re just saying there’s enough pavement in Maine. Let’s keep the soil and the trees and the woods.”

Joan Morrison has six granddaughters and comes from a dairy farm in the area that’s been in her family for 40 years. She doesn’t think an international corridor will fit in with the other small farms, small businesses and small towns that make this part of Maine special, and she hopes their movement will grow.

“We would like to think that this will keep growing as more grandmothers in central Maine realize there is action they can take,” Morrison says.

Susan Sharon: “Any grandfathers allowed?”

Joan Morrison: “Not allowed. No. No. We’ve gotten past caring what people think. I don’t know that the grandfathers are there yet.”

The grandmothers hold their monthly vigils in front of Cianbro headquarters on the fourth Friday of every month. Darryl Brown says the company respects their right to demonstrate peacefully, as well as their opinions.

Photos: Susan Sharon