PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court has allowed a 14-turbine wind farm on Passadumkeag Mountain to move ahead in a decision clarifying that the citizen-led Board of Environmental Protection has a broad power to review the decisions of state regulators.
The Board of Environmental Protection approval last year overturned a denial by Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho, who decided last year that the project in Grand Falls Township would negatively affect the scenic character of the area, specifically around Saponac Pond.
The project generated local opposition from the group Passadumkeag Mountain Friends, which had appealed the Board of Environmental Protection’s approval to the state’s top court.
A key question during oral arguments heard in early September was whether the Board of Environmental Protection could modify or add to the record of evidence in reviewing decisions from the Department of Environmental Protection, which gained oversight of all wind projects in the state through a law passed in 2012.
The court decision clarifies that in appeals of Department of Environmental Protection decisions, the board may act both as fact-finder and decision-maker.
“The board acted as both fact-finder and decision-maker pursuant to agency rules, and did not err in so doing,” the ruling states.
Opponents of the project argued that the board erred by not deferring to the Department of Environmental Protection’s factual finding of an adverse scenic impact. They also argued that Board of Environmental Protection members erred in communicating privately with company representatives during the proceedings.
In their 10-page decision issued Tuesday, the justices disagreed with both points, saying it was within the board’s right to determine anew how credible the evidence in the Department of Environmental Protection’s record was.
“Its findings regarding the project’s visual impact are supported by evidence that Saponac Pond is lightly used, that the surrounding area is developed, and that the project would not have an unreasonable adverse impact on the viewshed of the pond,” the decision states. “The board’s findings and conclusion are supported by substantial evidence in the record.”
Quantum Utility Generation, a Houston-based alternative energy company, is the developer for the project, which is led by Passadumkeag Windpark LLC and Penobscot Forest LLC.
The project was the first to be denied a permit by the Department of Environmental Protection. The Board of Environmental Protection’s reversal of the department’s decision elicited a response from Gov. Paul LePage at the time, who said the decision was disappointing.