Trading for my sorrows

Politics and other mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  October 3, 2007

My reputation as a problem solver is a little on the shabby side. Not as bad as that of Governor John Baldacci. Or the state’s congressional delegation. Or the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. But I’m probably not the first person you’d think to call when confronted with an enormous economic and environmental conundrum.

Which is just as well. First of all, I don’t know squat about the economy or the environment. And second, my inclination when confronted by controversy is not to figure out a solution, but to decide which side would be the easiest to ridicule. That may explain why I don’t get appointed to many blue ribbon commissions.

I’d have been content to continue in this manner if I hadn’t happened to attend the recent public hearing held by the state Land Use Regulation Commission at Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley on the revised plans to construct wind turbines on nearby Black Nubble Mountain.

On a good day, there probably aren’t a half-dozen people in suits and ties in all of Carrabassett Valley. One quick look around the room confirmed this was not a good day. Too many well-dressed people from away spouting too many slogans:

“A healthy air step in the right direction.”

(Air step? Like air guitar?)

“Protect our purple mountains’ majesty.”

(I never saw a purple mountain. I never hope to see one.)

“Please speak into the microphone.”

(Government warning: Speaking into the microphone doesn’t necessarily improve coherence. It just forces more people to endure a speech containing terms like “view-shed.”)

I was close to the point where I was either going to nod off or wander off to the nearest bar, when Willy Ritch stood up to speak. Ritch and I used to work together in Portland radio, and I was surprised to see him testifying on a project clear across the state from his home in Woolwich. I guess he came all that way because he’s now a professional blogger for a nonprofit organization that promotes wind power. But he’s also president of the Back River Alliance, which is a group opposed to building a massive gasification (I think that means the same as view-shed) plant on the former site of the Maine Yankee nuclear plant in Wiscasset.

Ritch thinks that project, which would convert coal and wood into gas and diesel fuels, is a bad idea because it would release greenhouse gases and mercury, as well as require numerous barge-loads of coal to be hauled through valuable fishing grounds on a regular basis. He appeared to be trying to convince the commissioners that destroying the environment near where I live by building huge wind turbines, would mean there’d be no need to wreck the landscape in the vicinity of his house.

As favorably inclined as I am toward protecting rich (and Ritch) people on the coast from sharing their high-rent neighborhoods with huge industrial projects, I still feel as if sacrificing the natural beauty of my own immediate environs to do so wouldn’t be a fair trade. Those of us living in the mountains of western Maine would probably require a little more incentive before we’d agree to have the only thing that attracts tourists to this area destroyed.

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