News coverage: writing about the environment

Since I spent so much time working as a journalist in Maine, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that writing about the environment was an almost-daily assignment. A lot of Maine people consider themselves to be environmentalists, and newspaper editors knew that and loved to get environmental stories from the wire services. Back in the 70s, power generating projects tended to be huge. In Maine, there were two big proposed power generating projects — the Passamaquoddy project, which was to generate power from ebbing and flowing tides; and the Dickey-Lincoln Hydroelectric project, two dams that would have flooded thousands of acres of forest land in northern Maine. I wrote scores of stories about both, mostly Dickey-Lincoln. Neither project was ever built.


AUGUSTA, Maine (UPI) – The head of the Maine Natural Resources Council told the legislative Committee on Energy Wednesday that the proposed Dickey Lincoln Hydroelectric Project could result in more than 30,000 acres of exposed mudflats during several weeks of the year.

Clifford Goodall said the hydroelectric project is flawed because the area would not have enough water to operate efficiently.

The Dickey Lincoln dam would create a long, slender lake instead of a lake concentrated in one area, and dropping the level of the lake to make room for spring runoff waters would result in 33,600 acres of exposed mudflats.

“Hydroelectric projects require water, and there just isn’t that much water up there,” Goodall said. “Passamaquoddy has the water. Dickey Lincoln has practically none.”

“If you’re going to dam up all this water in the spring, you have about a 10-month span in which you are going to let it out,” he said.

Sen. Edward Cyr, D-Madawaska, who sponsored the bill to set up an authority to build the project, said the dam would be financed through the sale of bonds, and would not cost the state any money.

“This authority only pertains to the creation of the Dickey Lincoln School project,” he said. “The authority would have no rights to sell electricity privately.”

“All this will do is create electricity,” he said.

Cyr said Dickey Lincoln would not only create its own electricity, but would allow Canadian power plants already on the river to install other turbines to generate more electricity. He said the electrical production could increase from the present 644,000 kilowatts to more than two million kilowatts.

Cyr said the project would help control flooding along the river, create jobs, open up a new tourist area, and could also help the state’s planned methanol industry by using the wood cleared from the area for wood alcohol production.

By storing the waters of this huge forest area, you would be able to stabilize the waters in the river, controlling and releasing the eaters as you need it,” he said.

Dickey Lincoln would generally be a “peaking power” facility – that is, it would provide power during the peak periods of the day, usually between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Cyr said the project would provide 10 per cent of the peaking needs of the entire New England region.

Goodall refuted the suggestion that the Saint John area could become a new tourist area.

“The one thing Maine doesn’t need,” he said, “is another lake.”

Goodall said the estimated cost of the project in 1974 was $356 million.

“Our figures are now $566 million, and the Boston Edison Co. says the plant could cost up to $1 billion,” he said.

Goodall said the Army Corps of Engineers, which has been studying the feasibility of the project, is thinking about scaling the project down to a simple pump-storage facility, which would cost much less money.

“Peaking power is the most wasteful, blatant use of energy we have, and that’s what Dickey is for,” he said. “Our future is in forest products, and Dickey would hurt our economy, not help it.”

Goodall said the natural Resources Council favors the Passamaquoddy project because it would generate base power rather than peaking power.

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