Richard Fecteau: A little dam history
Friday, July 27, 2007 - Bangor Daily News
If we really need "green power" so badly then we might as well rebuild the Edwards Dam across the Kennebec River in Augusta. Sound absurd? Well it is no more absurd than promoting industrial wind-power development in the protected mountain areas of Maine.
The Land Use Regulation Commission created mountain protection areas above 2,700 feet in 1972 for the simple reason that industrial development was not environmentally acceptable in the fragile alpine and subalpine areas of the Maine mountains.
The current rush to develop industrial wind power in the Maine mountains is reminiscent of the rush to build large hydroelectric dams on Maine rivers during the first half of the last century. Twentieth century politicians saw hydroelectric dams as a sign of progress and economic development much as politicians today see industrial wind-power development as progressive and economically rewarding.
In 1922, the Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. got legislative approval from Maine politicians to dam the Union River above Ellsworth and create 13,000-acre Graham Lake by flooding parts of three towns. Land was purchased under the threat of eminent domain, roads were closed and work started on an earthen dam to impound the river four miles above the center of Ellsworth. Impounding the river to create Graham Lake was such a rush job that Bangor-Hydro never even cut the trees about to be drowned. In the spring of 1923, the impounded waters breached the hastily built earthen dam and flooded all of downtown Ellsworth, whole buildings were swept away that crashed into and broke steel bridges off their abutments along the Union River on Rt. 1 and Main Street. Property damage totaled almost $8 million, at the time the most expensive disaster in Maine history. Lawsuits entailed, which took more than two years to settle and, in the end, the electric utility ratepayers footed the bill. This event marked the end of Ellsworth’s prominence as a shipping center for Down East Maine.
In 1949, Central Maine Power Co. got permission from Maine politicians to dam the Dead River and create 20,000-acre Flagstaff lake for "the public benefit of hydroelectric power generation". Private property was purchased under the threat of eminent domain with legislative approval. Parts of five towns were flooded, three villages had to be moved, along with all the graves in the local cemeteries.
This time the politicians required that the trees be cut before flooding commenced. The brush was burned in immense fires that got out of control and burned out anyone that had dared to resist the political power of CMP. Property owners that had resisted selling to CMP and that were not burned out by the fires were flooded out when the waters held back by the new dam rose during the spring of 1950. The Long Falls Dam, now owned by Florida Power and Light Co. that impounds Flagstaff lake, has never produced electricity, yet it still costs the electric utility ratepayers of FPL almost $1 million per year.
These two examples of political will to put private profits above the public and environmental costs of promoting industrial development can still happen in Maine.
Gov. Baldacci , in the July 12 BDN: "Maine is prepared to host thousands of megawatts of generation capacity from wind and biomass" to serve southern New England’s "insatiable appetite for energy."
Gov. Baldacci has also created a task force to study wind power siting in Maine. This study commission is mostly made up of wind industry employees, consultants and their political supporters.
Corporate interest in industrial wind power has much more to do with profits from taxpayer and ratepayer subsidies than the perceived benefits of "green power." If Maine politicians really want the environmental benefits of being "green," then they should start seriously promoting energy conservation before promoting ill-conceived industrial wind-power development in the protected mountain areas of Maine.
Richard Fecteau is a resident of Farmington.