Will sinkholes ultimately sink the proposed Jordanville wind project? Opponents of the project are hoping so.
Members of the Advocates for Stark group are claiming the karst topography of the region could suffer serious environmental impacts from construction of the project’s 75 wind turbines, putting the water supply at risk.
Karst topography is defined as an area of bedrock – usually limestone or dolomite – which is capable of being dissolved by surface water or ground water. Typical karst features include sinkholes, ravines and underground streams.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation recently expressed concerns about the karst topography of the area to Bernard Melewski, special counsel for the towns of Warren and Stark, stating the comprehensive Draft Environmental Impact Statement prepared for the project did not adequately address the issue.
When Melewski received a letter from the DEC on Sept. 8, however, he said the town of Warren, the lead agency in the project, was already moving to address the concerns. The letter was sent a month after public comments were accepted for the Environmental Impact Statement.
“Their letter was a month late, but the town had asked the developer to work with their consultant and do additional work on ground water, which is subject to additional public comment,” said Melewski.
The town recently announced that a supplement to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement was being prepared, with a ground water report part of that supplement. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement had previously been accepted by the town and three public hearings were held as part of the public comment period. An additional opportunity for public comment of no less than 30 days will be provided before a Final Environmental Impact Statement is prepared.
“We’re taking multiple bites at the apple here, and the process the town is following will reassure any reasonable citizen of the two towns,” said Melewski. “No one is interested in damaging the ground water. I have every confidence from what I know at the moment that the project can avoid that.”
Advocates for Stark members, though, claim their concerns are legitimate. According to group spokeswoman Sue Brander, Jim Eckler of Wiltsie Hill Road has first-hand knowledge of the unpredictable nature of sinkholes.
Last fall, Gordon Van Alstine came to harvest Eckler’s cornfield and was driving along when he suddenly felt the tractor struggling, related Brander. Van Alstine looked back, and realized the loaded wagon he was pulling had all but disappeared, hanging by the hitch over a 30-40 foot deep hole that was about 8-10 feet wide by 5 feet wide.
Recorded geological research shows that karst formations occupy only 10 percent of the earth’s surface, but account for nearly 25 percent of the world’s water supply, remarked Brander. Karst landscapes are dynamic and can change quickly and without warning, she adds.
Limestone caves and sinkholes are familiar sights to residents of the Jordanville area, with the caves collecting ground water. They form underground reservoirs and streams, also known as aquifers, which sometimes re-emerge on the earth’s surface as springs. Many area residents rely on these springs for their domestic water supply.
“There are limestone caves beneath the ground in the project area. The domes of karst caves are notoriously unstable. We don’t know the weight-bearing capacity of these domes,” said Brander. “Each turbine weighs 303 tons, and the cement foundation weighs approximately 1,885 tons. Building these on ground that is hollow underneath is like putting a boulder on a carton of eggs. Will the hollow ground beneath these wind-swept ridges support 75 turbines weighing about 2,000 tons each?”
“The unstable karst geology is barely mentioned in passing, in an appendix of the DEIS. The document is totally inadequate,” Brander said.
How this local network of caves, ravines and sinkholes is interconnected remains largely unknown, said Brander.
In October of 2005, New York-based GZA GeoEnvironmental prepared a preliminary report for project developer Community Energy. The report stated that water was used during rock core drilling at two locations and that, after the drilling was completed, there was no standing water in the drill holes. DEC officials have said this could indicate that the water drained through existing fractures in the bedrock, and entered directly into the aquifer, potentially polluting the water.
The DEC recommended that a comprehensive survey of karst features be conducted in the project development area, identifying bedrock fractures and sinkholes and showing their location relative to proposed project activities.
Of special concern to the DEC is the state Fish Hatchery located on Chyle Road in Van Hornesville. The hatchery’s water supply comes from two separate underground springs, flowing out of the earth at around 400 gallons a minute. This water supply is considered free of fish pathogens and invasive species such as zebra mussels because it comes from the underground aquifer, said DEC officials. Its disease-free water supply makes this fish hatchery uniquely suited for raising rainbow trout, as they are particularly susceptible to disease. The hatchery in Van Hornesville raises some 200,000 fingerlings and 100,000 yearling rainbow trout annually, which the DEC uses in its statewide fisheries management program.
DEC officials have advised that Community Energy conduct dye tests to identify underground water flow, especially as it relates to the springs that supply the fish hatchery.
In addition, DEC has urged careful monitoring to ensure that surface runoff does not contaminate sub-surface water supplies and recommended that Community Energy take special steps to prevent any accidental fuel or lubricant spills, as well as concrete slurry discharge.
“Almost every well in the project area taps into that underground reservoir,” Brander pointed out. “In test bores, they hit bedrock at four feet in some areas. They will have to blast or jackhammer to get down nine feet for the turbine foundations. When you blast or jackhammer in bedrock, you close old fractures and open new ones in unpredictable ways.”
Brander said this poses a serious threat to area wells, and to the fish hatchery.
“The pure, clean water resources under these ridges are far more valuable than the wind above them. Why not build a bottling plant and market our precious water?” she suggested. “It would cost far less and yield far more income to the towns.”
By Joe Parmon -Telegram Staff Writer
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