SHEFFIELD — The First Wind site on Sheffield Mountain is “substantially in compliance” with its storm-water runoff control permit, even after the massive deluge hit the area last week.
Kevin Burke, a Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation environmental analyst, conducted a scheduled inspection of the site beginning 8 a.m. May 27 — the morning after floods destroyed roads and flooded property throughout Caledonia County and other parts of central Vermont.
He walked and rode on ATVs on access roads that led to the sites being prepared for the industrial turbines in the First Wind project on Sheffield Mountain, Burke said Friday.
He filed a report saying that the erosion controls in place match the requirements of First Wind’s storm-water runoff control permit.
“Site looked excellent, especially after 4.5 inches rain in last 24 hours,” Burke wrote in a two-page report. “No changes necessary other than typical maintenance. The site is in substantial compliance with permit.”
Burke had scheduled the site visit with First Wind officials before the storm hit last week, making the inspection a timely coincidence to see how well erosion controls worked in severe storm conditions.
There was some storm damage to runoff controls, Burke said. Runoff breached what’s called a silt fence near the entrance to the Duck Pond Road site. The flowing water “jumped a conveyance channel along a fence” which would have directed the water to a sediment pond, Burke said.
Instead the water ran into a town ditch, he said.
Burke saw locations where more mulch was needed. He also said that sediment ponds handled the silt in the runoff as designed.
Logging roads, in place before First Wind began construction of the access roads and turbine pads, had run-off problems, Burke said. Some of those logging roads have sent runoff into the First Wind site, he said.
The management of erosion on those logging roads “could have been better,” he said. The logging operation is governed under a separate permit that has different standards.
Some opponents, such as Annette Smith of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, have complained about erosion at the site. That erosion was caused by the pre-existing logging operations, Burke said.
That is one of the biggest challenges of inspecting a construction site for erosion controls, Burke said: An expert could see how the runoff is being controlled according to the requirements of the permit, and call it in compliance while an inexperienced eye would see mud and erosion on logging roads and call it a problem.
The First Wind project is the first industrial-size wind site of its kind in Vermont. And it is a first for Burke to inspect as well.
“It is unique,” Burke said.
He has done inspections at ski areas that are somewhat comparable.
The state does follow up on complaints, he said. Burke pointed to the violations leveled against Jay Peak Resort during construction of its golf course after heavy spring rains in 2007.
Jay Peak cut a deal with the enforcement arm of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources to pay a fine of $105,000.
Smith told The Chronicle last month that First Wind should be fined for the logging erosion just like Jay Peak was fined.
The difference between what happened at Jay Peak Resort and the First Wind site in Sheffield is significant, Burke said.
Jay Peak Resort’s construction team did not follow the erosion control plan under its permit, he said. First Wind did, he said.
Some of the site is nearly ready for the turbine parts that are expected to begin arriving as early as Monday.
The foundation has been poured for the pad that will support turbine 5, Burke said. A crane is visible on Interstate 91 southbound from Newport City at that site, he said.
Other areas are still under construction and some areas were being prepared for blasting, he said.
Burke expects to return to the site every two or three weeks for scheduled inspections throughout the summer-long construction period.
He could go to the site for unscheduled inspections at any time if there are complaints that require investigation, he said.