Will wind generation towers adversely impact one of Vermont’s iconic views, the long shimmering expanse of deep Lake Willoughby in the Northeast Kingdom?
That is a question that officials in the town of Westmore have raised. They say they are concerned the sight of the proposed Sheffield Wind Farm on mountains located from two to five miles from Lake Willoughby, which is in Westmore, could affect the town’s prestigious National Natural Landmark status.
However, a Harvard-trained landscape architect design consultant hired by proposed wind farm developer UPC Wind Partners LLC, of Newton, Mass., to assess aesthetic impact has testified the project would not adversely impact the scenery within a 10-mile radius.
UPC hopes to install 16 turbines, each 420-foot tall, at the Sheffield site.
The view shed the towers are in includes Lake Willoughby, which is listed along with Mount Mansfield and Camel’s Hump among Vermont sites on the registry of national landmarks, according to the U.S. Park Service Web site.
Westmore abuts Sutton and is located somewhere between two and five miles northeast of Sheffield, according to a visual assessment map prepared by LandWorks, the Middlebury firm hired to assess visual impact.
“As you come in view of Willoughby Lake, they (wind turbines) will be visible,” said Nancy Mallary, a member of the Westmore selectboard, citing information from visibility documents prepared by a consultant.
UPC is currently involved in state permitting hearings before the Vermont Public Service Board. Westmore officials made a motion to intervene during the proceedings in May after learning the clean energy wind project could be seen from several high elevation areas in town.
Mallary said the selectboard neither supports nor opposes the wind farm; members are just concerned about protecting their landmark status.
The National Park Service in 1967 declared Lake Willoughby “the deepest lake in Vermont, and an exceptionally fine example of a trough cut by glacial scouring containing multiple examples of the work of glaciers,” its Web site states.
But UPC-hired aesthetics expert David Raphael, owner of LandWorks, has concluded in written filings with the Public Service Board that the project would not have an adverse visual effect on the area. A graduate of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, Raphael has in the past provided his professional opinion on the aesthetic impact for public works projects, including the Searsburg wind farm.
“Although this area is an attractive Vermont landscape,” Raphael said in testimony to the Public Service Board, referring to the landscape within 10 miles of the proposed wind farm, “like many other areas in the state, it does not rise to the level of having outstanding or unique visual qualities.”
Mallary had a different view. “Two-thirds of our residents come to Westmore because of our scenic beauty,” she said. “We have no other economic resource in town.”
Mallary said the town has not held a public vote nor does it oppose the project, it just wants to make sure the landmark is protected. Because the town is so designated, it is promoted on national Web sites attracting tourists seeking out unique natural locations, she said.
Maps prepared by LandWorks for UPC’s original Public Service Board proposal filed Feb. 22, 2006, indicate that the wind farm can be seen from spots near the public swimming area on the north end of the lake, especially when traveling south on Route 58 from Brownington into Westmore heading toward the lake.
Mallary said if turbines were visible from those areas, they could also be seen from the higher elevation hiking trails on Mt. Pisgah, Mt. Hor and Wheeler Mountain.
Mallary is scheduled to testify toward the end of a two-week technical hearing proceeding before the Public Service Board in Montpelier.
Permit proceedings for the wind generation project are scheduled to conclude by March 26, more than a year after the company filed for a certificate of public good before the Vermont Public Service Board, which oversees utility projects. The review process has involved the applicant, abutting landowners, the Agency of Natural Resources, the Department of Public Service, opponent groups and other interested parties which have participated in two site visits, three public hearings, numerous legal filings and hours of public testimony. Over the course of the year UPC decreased the number of turbines from 26 to 16 and the height was raised from 398-feet to 420-feet-tall to address community concerns.
According to UPC, the project would generate a maximum capacity of 40 megawatts of power, which could energize 15,000 average Vermont homes or all of Caledonia County using free, unlimited alternative energy. UPC is working to sell the power generated by wind turbines to Vermont utilities, including Washington Electric Co-op in East Montpelier. The town of Sheffield has a contract to get between $350,000 and $485,000 per year in exchange for supporting the project, and about three to five high skilled full time jobs would be created and many more temporary construction jobs.
By Carla Occaso
Times Argus Staff
9 February 2007