Climate impact considered in Maine megaproject

When a timber company proposed a new development on a lake in central Maine that would clear 14,000 acres of forest to build roughly 2,300 homes, forward-looking leaders in Maine questioned the wisdom of a mega-project on pristine wilderness so far from existing infrastructure.

Considering the fact that satisfying the growing demand for homes in conveniently located walkable neighborhoods will be instrumental in reducing our carbon footprint, advocates in Maine commissioned a ground-breaking report that studied the environmental impact of the development — specifically on greenhouse gases resulting from a project built in a location only accessible by car. The Christian Science Monitor has the coverage:

At issue is not just the size of a development but the amount of driving it encourages. By being so far from major cities and accessible only by car, the Plum Creek project would produce, conservatively speaking, an additional 9,500 tons of emissions annually, according to the Environment Northeast study. That’s the equivalent of putting an extra 1,850 vehicles on the road.

While only a few states are explicitly examining the climate impacts of developments — neighboring Massachussetts evaluates large-scale plans — it’s clear that can’t continue putting thousands of houses in the middle of nowhere if we’re going to reduce our carbon output. (Not to mention that demand for those homes are waning — even as the demand for housing in convenient, accessible, walkable places goes unmet.)

Alan Caron, president of SGA coalition member GrowSmart Maine, cut to the heart of the issue:

“It’s our belief that we can’t meet the nation’s transportation goals for climate change just by improving automobile technology…You have to pay attention to where things are located.”

The state is holding hearings on rezoning the land for the development this week, so they will decide as soon as this summer whether or not a timber company will be able to build a project that seems, in an age of growing concerns over rising gas prices, energy instability and climate change, to look backwards rather than forward.

Visit GrowSmart Maine to learn more, and don’t miss Charting Maine’s Future, their outstanding blog.