July 4, 2010

From swords into ploughshares

Deal under way to turn Cold War-era radar site into possible wind farm

By Doug Harlow dharlow@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

MOSCOW -- To look at it today, one would never know that the former "backscatter" radar station could peek over the earth's horizon from Moscow, Maine, and track war planes and missiles launched from Moscow, Russia.

click image to enlarge

POWER UP: Moscow resident Art Colson speaks about the proposed wind turbines being considered at the former Over the Horizon Backscatter radar site near his home on Radar Ridge. Colson is standing outside the locked and enclosed facility.

Staff photo by David Leaming

But it did. Once upon a time.

A remnant of the Cold War, the U.S. Air Force's Over the Horizon Backscatter system was developed in 1970. It was shut down in 1997.

Now the site is up for sale by the federal government and there is a land deal in the works -- with the Penobscot Indian Nation.

Plans include a possible wind-power generation site, Penobscot Nation Tribal Chief Kirk Francis said this week.

"We own land in that area and a little over a year-and-a-half ago we started to look at that site as a potential alternative energy site, to produce a wind farm and also another energy component," Francis said. "Our vision for that site is a wind farm and figuring out a way to produce electricity outside of those wind turbines; using the elevation to run water sources through turbines and have a holding facility."

Francis said there is a 12-acre pond on the property that could provide opportunity for additional power, but that would be a second phase of the project.

"We're really focused on the wind towers at this point, but certainly there is opportunity beyond wind up there to produce electricity, and we think it would be a nice economic project for our tribe," he said.

Moscow First Selectman J. Donald Bean said the town has been involved in discussions with the tribe and with the federal General Services Administration, which owns the land. The town of Moscow maintains the road that leads to the site.

"It's been a long, long process; very, very slow-moving, as you can imagine with the federal government," Bean said. "General Services Administration are the ones in charge of it right now. The first people they are giving a chance to buy it (is) the Penobscot Indian Nation. They had an appraisal done and they couldn't come to an agreement, so they are currently having a second one done.

"If they agree to it, then they will probably purchase it; and if they don't, then it will be offered to someone else."

Bean said the Maine tribe was first in line for the property because the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs got involved for them.

"First it's offered to a federal agency, then state and then local," he said.

Chief Francis said the deal is almost ready to be signed with GSA.

"It's a really big project," he said. "We're partnered with a major company from Maine that is very experienced in these things and we're ready to go; we're just waiting for all the land issues to get sorted out between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and GSA."

He said one appraisal has been done and new one is being finalized to finish the deal.

"We expect that to be resolved very quickly," Francis said. "We just want to make sure the appraisal is done in a way that reflects the economy in that region and the opportunity that's there for us."

'Most feasible' site

The prototype for the backscatter radar site was built by General Electric Co., with the transmitter at the Moscow Air Force Station, according to a report on Weapons of Mass Destruction at globalsecurity.org. Initial testing was conducted from June 1980 to June 1981. There was another site in Oregon.

Once described as the world's largest radar system, the program was developed over 25 years at a cost of $1.5 billion, according to globalsecurity.org and a 2005 report by the Associated Press. It was fully operational for just one year, the report said.

(Continued on page 2)

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