Town official still can’t say whether or not the Hoosac Wind Project will become a fact.
“Still waiting for the magistrate to hand down a decision. Nobody knows what that is, only her,” said Monroe Board of Selectmen Chair David Nash.
Owned by PPM Energy, the project was expected to include 20 wind turbines, said PPM spokeswoman Jan Johnson. However, the number of predicted turbines has changed to 21, at last count.
Monroe Board of Assessors member James Heavey said as it now stands, the Town of Florida will have 11 turbines, and Monroe will have 10.
“That’s subject to change,” Heavey said.
The two towns meet at the top of the Hoosac Mountain ridge, the proposed site for the wind-powered electricity generating plant. Heavey said each town is responsible for hiring an economic consultant to determine the best property tax evaluation of the wind project.
But the towns have agreed to hire the same consultant and attorney. Both towns put out a Request For Proposal (RFP), and received six responses.
Based on RFP compliance, interviews with town representatives and related experience, Heavey recommended a company called Black and Veatch, from Overland Park, Kan.
Monroe’s Selectmen approved that recommendation, which was similarly approved by Florida’s Selectmen.
Economic consultants Black and Veatch will negotiate with owners PPM, Inc., of Portland, Ore., for what is called a Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT). The PILOT is a seven-year estimate of what the entire property is worth, and PPM, Inc., will agree to pay a set rate every year, for a term of seven years.
By setting a fixed value for a period of seven years, Heavey said the assessors would not have to revaluate the property taxes every year. Seven years was chosen because that should be how long a wind turbine can operate before it becomes outdated.
Heavey said it was determined that equipment maintenance would cost more than equipment replacement. At the end of seven years, newer and more powerful turbines might replace the older ones.
“Neither Monroe or Florida is paying the fee; that is being paid by the wind turbine company. That takes the money right out of the equation, so we sent after the most qualified,” Heavey said.
Florida town manager Susan Brown said a previous conservation commission issued an “order of conditions” that provided ecological guidelines for development.
One condition, she said, was that an open-bottomed culvert be used on an access road, cutting across a stream.
Another condition had to do with an endangered species of goldenrod. Brown said the goldenrod was to be dug up and replanted elsewhere, to protect it.
Green Berkshires, Inc. (greenberkshires.org) challenged the Town of Florida on that order.
A second, “superceding order of conditions,” was given by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which allowed PPM, Inc., permission to develop on a wetland. But a Town of Florida citizen’s group challenged the wetlands permit.
PPM spokeswoman Jan Johnson said a ruling had been expected in fall 2006, but they are still waiting for it.
“We do have this opposition group,” said Johnson by telephone on Friday, Feb. 2. “As in other states, wind is generally supported by environmental groups. As in other states, we do have people who oppose wind power in a vocal way. We are trying to meet the demands [and are] still optimistic about moving forward with the project.”
Johnson continued, “Massachusetts has a well-vetted and vigorous process that allows public input. In general, Hoosac enjoys broad support.”
Green Berkshires, Inc., spokeswoman Eleanor Tillinghast spoke to West County News about her group’s support of the opposition. She said Green Berkshires is not the actual plaintiff; technically, the plaintiff is the citizen’s group. However, the statewide group is the intervener. State law allows a second group to come in support of the first group, she said.
Tillinghast said the citizen group appealed the superceding order of conditions “on the grounds that the review was inadequate, and would not protect the interests of the Wetlands Protection Act.”
The magistrate of the Division of Administrative Law Appeals is due to issue a recommended decision, which then goes to the commissioner of the DEP, Tillinghast said. The commissioner cab choose to accept or reject any or all of the magistrate’s recommended decisions. The Division of Administrative Law Appeals is the last step before it goes to Superior Court, Tillinghast explained.
She said the project involves 4.5 miles of new road up to the ridgeline, noting that such roads are very wide, entailing extensive blasting, cutting, and filling, and will cost about a dozen streams and wetlands.
“Those high-gradient streams are pristine, with a lot of ecological value. These roads would significantly alter those resources,” she said. “If you look at the Brody Mountain project in Hancock, there’s been a huge amount of destruction, where big roads cut through remote, fragile upland areas.”
If this were a case of a developer putting up 20 “McMansions, and miles of road, people would be in an uproar,” she said. “But, people are willing to turn their eyes because they think it’s clean energy. Our view is they should be subject to the same environmental regulations as other developments,” she said.
By Gregory G. Lewis
West County News
8 February 2007
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