‘Our Victories Are Temporary, but Our Defeats Are Permanent’

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A Timeline of New England Environmental Battles

New England has seen major environmental conflicts for decades. Yankee polled a dozen regional groups to come up with the following timeline of some of the most contentious debates of the past 50 years. Whether environmentalists find themselves pitted against private industry, state and federal governments, or even public opinion, they keep fighting, according to Elizabeth Courtney, executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, because, as she puts it (paraphrasing environmentalist David Brower), “Our victories are temporary, but our defeats are permanent.”

Congress authorizes the Dickey-Lincoln School Dam hydroelectric power project, which would inundate 140 square miles of wilderness along Maine’s St. John River. After three decades of opposition (and the 1976 rediscovery of the rare Furbish lousewort plant on the riverbanks), Congress finally deauthorizes Dickey-Lincoln.

The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is permitted, with the provision that the state legislature have the authority to veto federal relicensure. In 2010, the legislature votes to deny recertification in 2012 because of radiation leaks, but Vermont Yankee goes to court in 2011 to argue that the state is overstepping its authority.

After years of controversy, the federal government drops plans to build a four-lane highway (and possibly a tunnel) through New Hampshire’s Franconia Notch. I-93 through the Notch becomes one of the few remaining two-lane Interstate sections in America.

Vermont passes Act 250, its landmark Land Use and Development Plans law, but three years later, revisions take the legs out from under the measure. Further attempts are made periodically to weaken Act 250.

Pittston Oil is defeated in its attempt to build a refinery in Eastport, Maine.

The Maine Turnpike Authority is defeated in court, and again in a 1991 public referendum, in its bid to widen sections of the Maine Turnpike. In 1997, Maine voters approve the controversial project for a 30-mile segment.

The Clamshell Alliance battles unsuccessfully against the proposed Seabrook, New Hampshire, nuclear-power plant. In 1977, more than 2,000 protesters occupy the construction site; 1,414 are arrested. After construction, protests by various groups continue until 1989.

The City of Quincy files suit against Boston’s Metropolitan District Commission, charging it with discharging raw sewage and polluted storm water runoff into Boston Harbor. The Conservation Law Foundation and the EPA file similar suits, leading to a $4.5 billion 26-year harbor cleanup.

RESTORE: The North Woods proposes the creation of a 3.2-million-acre Maine Woods National Park, which stirs intense response for and against.

In 2011, Maine’s NEWLY ELECTED
conservative legislature passes a resolution opposing any federal national-park feasibility study. Burt’s Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby, having bought thousands of acres of forestland, proposes donating 70,000 acres as a smaller, alternative national park, plus another parcel as a national recreation area that would allow hunting and snowmobiling.

Cape Wind proposes construction of 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound. The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound fights the project. In 2010, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decides that the state may overrule local authorities and grant local permits itself. In 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, EPA, and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation & Enforcement grant federal approvals. In 2011 the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound file an appeal and consider a lawsuit.

Broadwater Energy, a joint venture between Shell Oil and TransCanada, proposes a 1,200-foot-long floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Long Island Sound. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approves it in 2008, but citizens, environmental groups, and state officials in Connecticut and New York defeat the project.

Plum Creek Timber Co. proposes the largest development in the history of Maine: 975 house lots, two resorts, golf course, marina, and three RV parks around Moosehead Lake. In September 2009, following contentious hearings, Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission approves a scaled-down development that would also protect 363,000 acres. In April 2011, a Maine Superior Court judge rules that LURC has used a faulty process (no public hearing) and sends the matter back for further consideration.


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