BARTON – News that the Sheffield wind project will use access roads here to transport industrial turbines and towers to ridge line sites has prompted selectmen to seek an expanded role in the hearings before the Public Service Board (PSB).
Following a Monday night meeting that saw citizens call for a more active role, the Barton Town Selectmen voted to petition the board for party status in the case.
“I’m not saying one way or the other right now where we stand on the issue,” Chairman Rupert Chamberlin said in an interview Tuesday. He was reluctant to get the town involved in the ongoing debate over wind.
But he allowed that party status would be helpful if there “comes a time we want to express ourselves.”
Late last month UPC Vermont Wind submitted a revised plan to the PSB for its Sheffield project. The revision would reduce the number of turbines from 26 to 16 and make the project, in the developers’ words, more compact with less visual impact.
To access the new configuration, UPC seeks a route that would pass through downtown Barton.
“This access route starts at the I-91 exit in Barton, proceeds on Route 5 to New Duck Pond Road, and then turns east into the project site area via a legal town trail,” says the company in its proposal to the PSB.
Once the route swings onto the town trail and existing logging roads, according to the proposal, the company will construct 5.5 miles of new road to the project’s site. UPC says the “four turbines on Granby Mountain and Libby Hill will be accessed via a new road.”
Apparently selectmen were pushed toward taking a more active role by a group of citizens concerned about the impact heavy truck traffic might have on the town.
Liz Butterfield said in an interview Tuesday that she went to the meeting with two goals in mind. First to see if the town could attain party status. And secondly, to learn if the Duck Pond Road could stand up to the heavy traffic that the project would generate.
She noted there are 38 culverts in the road.
While Ms. Butterfield said she doesn’t feel ardently one way or the other toward the project, she added that she wants more information.
“I want to know how they plan to maintain the integrity of the road and the area,” she said.
According to Mr. Chamberlin, the town tried and failed to obtain party status earlier in the case. Its petition didn’t make the deadline, and it was rejected, he said.
But in light of the company’s recently revised plans, the town might get a second chance.
Last week the PSB directed the company to submit an amended petition for the certificate of public good required for the project to go forward. PSB Clerk Sue Hudson said Friday that no decision has been taken yet on whether hearings in the case will open on December 4 as scheduled.
In an earlier letter to the board, the Department of Public Service has requested more time to prepare a response to changes proposed by UPC. On the first time around, the department was critical of the plan to erect 26 turbines. And in its letter to the board on October 5, the department said it would need at least a week to complete an aesthetic analysis of UPC’s revised layout.
Surprisingly enough, aesthetics were not on the table Monday night even though, according to Mr. Chamberlin, there has been a “big to-do” over the visual impact the towers may have on Crystal Lake.
In prefiled testimony with the board, UPC’s landscape architect, David Raphael, testified that the new configuration of towers would improve the fit with the landscape. Under the original proposal, 16 towers would have been visible from Crystal. The revised plan has pared that number down to 14.
Mr. Raphael, who lectures in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont, also took exception to attempts by the project’s opponents to characterize Crystal Lake as a pristine lake.
“I believe that Crystal Lake is popular for recreation because of the facilities and the beach, not because of the view,” he said in testimony filed with the board on September 25.
“We have spent a lot of time considering the Crystal Lake view and possible impacts from this project, and I can reaffirm several key conclusions: 1) Crystal Lake does not offer the level of scenic beauty that Lake Willoughby, for example, provides, and people do go to Lake Willoughby for the view; 2) the distance of the turbines from the park and their form in the landscape reduce their “˜presence’ and/or potential for distraction and thus their visual impact; and 3) there are foreground views, elements, and activities which are more of a focus for park users than the distant view of the hills.”
Although Mr. Raphael goes on to call Crystal “a typically scenic lake” for Vermont, he says it is not one that stands out for “exceptional or unique beauty.”
“I believe Crystal Lake is not a unique or highly sensitive location,” he says. “It is a place people go to recreate because there are facilities there and an amenable beach – that, as opposed to the view, is the attraction and the focus. The view supplements and enhances the experience but is not necessary to the enjoyment of the lake and the park facilities.”
Independent of their academic merit, those views could well play into the hands of anti-wind groups in the Northeast Kingdom, who want Barton to become more involved in the process.
Recently, Barton Village received packets about UPC’s revisions from groups like the Ridge Protectors, calling on the trustees to get involved, according to Brian Hanson, the village supervisor.
Trustees haven’t taken up the issue of putting heavy truck traffic on the Duck Pond Road, or the project’s impact on the area. But that could change soon. Mr. Hanson said Tuesday he plans to contact UPC and arrange a meeting.
Opponents of the project clearly hope that Barton will decide to play a more active role.
“Barton could be a huge player in this process,” said Greg Bryant, a spokesman for the Ridge Protectors. “If they don’t respond, PSB is going to believe that Barton doesn’t care.”
by Paul Lefebvre
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding