October 8, 2008

Deal Protects Counties Mountains

By Donna M. Perry

FARMINGTON - A plan to develop a wind-power facility on mountains in remote Franklin County includes a two-part conservation agreement for other mountaintops in Oxford and Franklin counties.

TransCanada Corp. will celebrate the deal with conservation groups and the state during a gathering at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 9, at the Augusta Country Club on Route 202 in Manchester.

The agreement includes an easement to protect 1,100 acres of ridgeline in the Boundary Mountains of Franklin County from wind- power development. The agreement also includes a $500,000 contribution to help the state permanently protect 3,450 acres for public access on Stowe Mountain in Newry as part of an expansion of Grafton Notch State Park.

TransCanada is in the early stage of building a $320 million wind- power facility on Kibby Mountain and Kibby Range near the Canadian border. The 44-turbine project will be the largest of its kind in New England, producing enough electricity to power 50,000 Maine homes, the company said.

The company agreed to enter into a conservation agreement during early discussions on the proposed project, officials said.

TransCanada's $500,000 contribution is part of a larger conservation effort by the state in partnership with The Trust for Public Land to protect about 4 miles of the 42-mile Grafton Loop Trail in Oxford County. The trust and the state Bureau of Parks and Land have been working for several years to protect Stowe Mountain, said Alan Stearn, the bureau's deputy director.

The Grafton Loop Trail starts at Grafton Notch State Park and crosses the Stowe Mountain parcel, Stearn said. The parcel includes other smaller peaks on top of the mountain as well as the ridgeline.

Funding sources to secure the property include $443,000 from Land for Maine's Future that voters authorized through a bond issue in November 2007 and $1.1 million in federal funding from the Forest Legacy Program, Stearn said.

"Stowe Mountain will be protected by a conservation easement.

"The state won't own the mountain but it will be protected permanently through a conservation easement," Stearn said. "Our goal is to close on the project this winter."

The Trust for Public Land has negotiated an option to buy back a working forest conservation easement that includes a corridor along the Grafton Loop Trail at the high elevation of the property, said Sam Hodder, state director of the trust.

The property is owned by the Center for Special Needs of Florida, Hodder said, which bought the property as a long-term asset to manage as a sustainable forest.

"The property itself is a remarkable resource," Hodder said. "It's right at Bear River Valley along scenic Route 26."

TransCanada's contribution will go toward protecting the high- elevation area and the trail corridor, which is about 700 acres, Hodder said.

It is the second parcel of Grafton Loop Trail the trust has acquired for the state.

Newry Selectman Stephen Wight, a Maine Land Use Regulation commissioner, said the conservation agreement was a good deal for the region. As a LURC commissioner, he was aware of the conservation effort but not involved in the negotiations, he said.

"For the whole of the Bethel area, this is a great thing. It is an economic benefit to have public lands in Grafton Notch enlarged. This is a real plus."

Staff Writer Terry Karkos contributed to this report.

Originally published by Staff Writer.

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