(This story has been updated with information added by Dan Remian, who helped organize the Governor’s visit.)
A group of economists, financial advisers, hedge fund managers, Federal Reserve advisers and bankers come from around the world each year to participate in “Camp Kotok,” a quiet and exclusive summit at Leen’s Lodge in Grand Lake Stream, a remote plantation in Washington County.
The annual weekend retreat is typically a low-key, relaxing and off-the-record respite for industry insiders, but this year they had a special guest: Governor Paul LePage.
Kevin Gurall, director of the Partnership for the Preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed, Gary Campbell, president of PPDLW, and Dan Remian of Cushing put together a plan to introduce the governor to Camp Kotok, the lodge owners, guides and beauty of the downeast lakes.
Remian invited Governor LePage to David Kotok’s financial summit to help the Governor promote his “Open for Business” message and meet Kotok’s group, which invests $200-$300 million in Maine.
George Gervais, commissioner of Economic and Community Development, and Adrienne Bennett, director of communications, accompanied the Governor.
Representatives of the Partnership for the Preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed, which is a local group organized to fight First Wind, and the Grand Lake Stream Guides Association, as well as local lodge owners, recognized the governor for his stance against industrial grid-scale wind power. They also asked for Governor LePage’s help in protecting their businesses from economic harm that would result if a proposed wind project were allowed to go forward.
On Friday, August 3, the first night of the Camp Kotok, the group presented Governor LePage with a paddle in honor of his position on wind power. Dale Tobey felled the tree that was used to make the paddle and hand finished it for this occasion. Pyrographer Deb Cochran, an employee at the Pine Tree Store, provided the beautiful inscription on the paddle.
Tobey is a second-generation guide who carries out the tradition of creating handcrafted Grand Laker canoes, paddles and other items during the winter months. J.R. Mabee, president of the Grand Lake Stream Guides Association, which represents 43 guides in the area, presented the paddle to Governor LePage. Governor LePage didn’t disappoint the crowd, calling wind turbines an expensive “boutique energy source.”
The governor said he is trying to reduce energy costs for Maine, preferring to use existing sources that are much less expensive, such as natural gas and hydropower. Governor LePage pointed out that Maine already has proven, less-expensive sources of renewable energy. “Like hydro, hydro and more hydro,” he said.
Although its first proposal was struck down, First Wind is now trying to build 27 wind turbines in Carroll Plantation and Kossuth Township. The massive turbines would dominate the skyline above the watershed and result in destruction of the pristine natural habitat and a loss of outdoor tourism, according to the guides and lodge owners.
Those attending Camp Kotok have gathered at Leen’s Lodge on the pristine shores of West Grand Lake every year for two decades, allowing leaders in economics and financial markets to speak candidly and privately, debate policy and mull over the most pressing economic issues. They revere the quiet, secluded and unspoiled nature of West Grand Lake, which offers of excellent fishing and other traditional outdoor activities.
The retreat is named for David Kotok, chairman and chief information officer of Cumberland Advisors in Sarasota, Fla., who has been coming to enjoy the remote beauty of Grand Lake Stream for 20 years. Back then, Kotok invited a few fellow economists to join him, and the event has since blossomed into a gathering of about 50.
Inviting Governor LePage to dinner was a first for Camp Kotok. “I was particularly impressed by his commitment to manage the state’s debt, reduce debt ratios, pay Maine’s bills in full and operate its government with a business-like approach,” Kotok said. “Maine is a very good muni credit and likely to get better. It is heading toward improvement. In Muniland, the key is to do the homework and avoid trouble patches. Illinois is an example of a state we are currently avoiding. And in Maine we met a governor who vows that his state will not be like Illinois. We thank him for joining us.”
Scott Moody, CEO of The Maine Heritage Policy Center, who watched the presentation to Governor LePage, has been a regular attendee at the retreat. Camp Kotok is estimated to attract about $200,000 in lodging, food and guide fees to the area.
“The village of Grand Lake Stream anchors the Down East Lakes Watershed,” Gurall told the governor and those gathered for the presentation. “The watershed encompasses 134,000 acres and is comparable in size and importance to Moosehead Lake and to the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. Except for small pockets of residential development, this watershed fully retains is wilderness character and scenic magnificence. We are extremely pleased to have you visit one of Maine’s best-kept secrets today.
“The characteristics of the watershed were severely threatened three years ago when First Wind LLC of Boston erected three meteorological towers on Bowers Mountain and the abutting long ridgeline that overshadows the watershed and particularly it’s northernmost lakes,” Gurall said.
“The proposal called for 27 turbines, each of which would be 43 stories tall,” he said. “Considering that our tallest building in Maine—the Franklin Towers in Portland—is only 208 feet tall, these industrial monoliths on their own would be more than twice that height, and they proposed erecting them at a location that was already 700 to 1,200 feet above the surrounding lakes.”
Gurall and three neighbors joined to fight the proposed grid-scale industrial wind project and formed the Partnership for the preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed (See www.ppdlw.org.)
“As you are aware, with the help and support of the lodge and sporting camp owners and a significant number of professional Maine guides—in fact, this area has the highest per capita number of guides in the entire state—we were the first industrial wind project opposition group who successfully defended a proposed wind turbine project in the state,” Gurall said.
Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission voted unanimously to deny the permit based on the scenic impact of the project on 10 lakes, which had been determined to be of statewide or national significance in the state’s “Wild Lands Lake Assessment” study.
“LURC deemed that this project would have an undue adverse impact, not only on the scenic qualities of this watershed, but also would have a severe negative impact on the sporting-based tourism business that is the lifeblood of this area,” Gurall said.
“But before the ink was dry on LURC’s denial, John Lamontagne, executive vice president of First Wind, stated that the company would be back with another project proposal by the fall,” he said. “They think that they can satisfy the DEP’s requirements by simply moving a couple of turbines or eliminating one or two. As one of the LURC commissioners stated in the previous denial document, even one 43-story turbine overshadowing this pristine watershed with its wilderness character is one too many.
“While your primary purpose for being here today is to participate in David Kotok’s annual financial summit meeting, we wanted to take advantage of your visit to recognize your stance against industrial grid-scale wind power and to ask for your help in protecting our businesses from certain economic ruin if this project is allowed to be built,” Gurall said to Governor LePage.
The livelihoods of many business owners are threatened by the First Wind project. Those present included Charles Driza, who with his sister Cecilia own and operate Leen’s Lodge; Lindsay Wheaton, who owns and operates the Grand Lake Lodge with her husband, Chris; John and Mary Arcaro, who own Canal Side Cabins and Steve Norris, owner of The Pines Lodge, whose family has a significant history of sporting camp and lodge ownership.
Also among those present were, Tobey’s brother Dave, who has been active in the Downeast Lakes Land Trust conservation association and is involved in any issue that affects the watershed; and Lou Cataldo, a fourth-generation guide and Grand Lake Streams selectman whose family has a very rich history in this area.
“Maine does not now need additional electric energy,” Dan Remian said to Governor LePage. “Just one combined-cycle gas plant, such as the Calpine plant in Westbrook provides 543mw on a footprint of only 1.94 acres.
“To equal the output of this one small gas plant with wind turbines of the type generally used in Maine, you would need a wind farm with 362 turbines on 2,520 acres,” Remian said. “That would be with 100% output from the turbines; this is not possible in Maine. At a very conservative output of 30%, it would take a wind farm with 1,207 turbines on 8,401 acres versus less than two acres for the gas plant.
“This destruction of such a vast amount of natural resources for an unreliable and unnecessary energy source must be terminated,” Remian told the governor. “A report from your Office of Energy has many beneficial recommendations, including one to convene a panel to identify areas where wind would be allowed. We are anxious to see this and many of the recommendations implemented.”
Charles Driza, owner of Leen’s Lodge, said that Camp Kotok is the most important event of his business year. The people of Grand Lake Stream were pleased to see the attention Camp Kotok and Governor LePage’s visit generated for the area.