NEWARK — A crowd of more than 100 people overwhelmingly said they opposed a plan by Seneca Mountain Wind to install wind test towers or 15 400-foot plus wind towers within the town of Newark at a meeting held Tuesday night.
Developers are considering plans to build a wind farm in Newark, Brighton and Ferdinand.
Tuesday afternoon, Newark residents and concerned residents turned out for a site visit to Hawk Rock in Newark, the location where Seneca Mountain Wind proposes the installation of a wind measurement tower. Later that day, at 7 p.m., Newark residents and residents from nearby towns packed the Newark elementary school gymnasium for a Vermont Public Service Board hearing on the wind measurement tower application.
There was nearly universal skepticism or outright opposition to locating the MET tower (meteorological measurement tower) in a forest off Route 114 adjacent to a sheer rock cliff known as Hawk Rock. Only one person spoke in support of allowing the installation of the meteorological station in Newark.
Three more MET towers are planned – two in Brighton and one in Ferdinand. The towers would be approximately 190 feet tall and would be anchored to the ground by bolts and reinforcement wires. The permit sought by Seneca Mountain Wind, LLC will allow the MET towers to remain in place for up to five years, after which they would be dismantled and removed from the site.
Bridgette Remington, a staff attorney and hearing officer for the PSB, and James Volz, chairman of the PSB, stressed that Tuesday’s docket focused solely on an application to install the four test towers. The PSB representatives reminded those in attendance that comments made, either general or specific, about Seneca Mountain’s proposed wind farm would not be considered when reaching a decision on the temporary test towers.
Both during the site visit to Hawk rock and the night time public hearing on the test towers, residents were frustrated and found it all but impossible to confine their arguments to the narrow confines of an application to install a single test tower on land adjacent to Hawk Rock.
The proposed location of the Hawk Rock tower is on woodland that is growing back after being harvested by Champion timber company approximately 20 years ago. The land, according to the Seneca Mountain project planners, is dominated by new growth wood which, at this point, has no commercial timber value. Approximately one acre would be cleared to create a site for the proposed tower.
Concern was expressed during the site visit by residents who feared peregrine falcons could be killed in collisions with the wires supporting the tower. Other comments questioned whether clearing the land could reduce the availability of beech trees for bear and yards for deer. Moose scat was found a few feet away from the test tower’s proposed installation.
Travis Bullard, a partner in the Seneca project, led the company’s presentation at the site, referring to an enlarged site map and explaining the distances between the tower and the peregrine falcons who nest in the sheer face of Hawk Rock nearby.
About 20 people viewed the site and asked questions. Later at the evening session, which lasted about three hours, speakers approached the microphone and directed comments to Volz.
Brooks Dingledine, the attorney hired by Newark, was perplexed by the PSB’s decision to disregard aesthetics consideration while deciding the MET Tower question. She believes the result was the people speaking at the hearing, “were led to believe they were being heard on aesthetics when they were not being heard,” adding that the board had made “a decision to blow off aesthetics.”
Chairman Volz was reluctant to discuss Dingledine’s concerns during the hearing and discouraged her from addressing the board. Meanwhile Sen. Joe Benning, a state senator representing Caledonia-Orange Senate District, asked people who were offended by the aesthetics of the tower to stand up. Virtually every person in the room stood – over 100 people. Benning saw that as a demonstration that aesthetics do count.
Volz explained, “There is no connection between this [MET Tower] and the wind farm. If there is no wind farm, then the MET towers must come down.”
Newark resident Jill Mathers, the only person to speak publicly in support of the tower, said it is consistent with the town plan. She suggested that perhaps the town should receive some tax revenue from the Newark test tower.
Nathan Rindelhardt said he owned 300 acres near Hawk Rock, which he purchased so that he could find some peace and tranquility. He compared the advent of a wind farm to the experience of the American Indians done in by white settlers. He added the Vermonters’ lament may be, “Bury My Heart in the Green Mountains.”
Jim Newell quietly ticked off everything his family had done to live in an environmentally friendly way in Newark, describing each of the green energy approaches his family had taken over the years. Nonetheless, he believe a MET Tower “contradicted the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources mission statement and subverted the NR’s statement of purpose.” He concluded, “The State of Vermont should bring broadband to Newark instead.”
The Public Service Board will continue its discussion of the application for four MET Towers. The proposed decision date on the application is Sept. 17. If the towers are not allowed, there will be no wind farm. On the other hand, if the MET Towers are approved and installed, an application for a wind farm might be rejected by the board. Seneca Mountain Wind could erect up to 40 towers, each over 400 feet tall.