The Hoosac Wind project’s wetlands permit, mired in procedural appeals for about two years, was reissued late yesterday by the acting commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The permit had been issued by the DEP, only to be withdrawn later when a group of citizens and an organization known as Green Berkshires appealed it to the Division of Administrative Law Appeals in February 2005.
On May 14, Administrative Magistrate Natalie S. Monroe ruled against the wetlands permit.
Her ruling then went to the DEP acting commissioner’s office for review.
The acting commissioner, Arleen O’Donnell, could have upheld the magistrate’s ruling, but she found that the main contention was without merit after consulting with the most recent standards established for the protection of stream beds and stream banks.
“The magistrate’s denial was largely based on a theory that shading wetlands vegetation under (open bottom) culverts would destabilize the stream banks,” O’Donnell said in a prepared statement. “However, the culverts are designed to minimize impacts to stream banks by fully spanning them, a design that is consistent with new federal and state guidance.”
The project would construct 20 340-foot wind turbines – 11 on Bakke Mountain in Florida and nine on Crum Hill in Monroe. Originally scheduled for completion in 2007, the 1.5-megawatt GE turbines would generate enough electricity to power 10,000 households.
Officials at PPM Energy, the developer of the Hoosac Wind project, could not be reached for comment last night. But a spokesman for PPM said recently that the company was confident that the permit would be reissued, and a time line to have the wind farm operating by the end of 2008 is still in place.
During a phone interview last night, O’Donnell noted that her decision was based strictly on the facts surrounding the crossing of stream beds, not on the overall Hoosac Wind project or on the concept of wind energy.
She is uniquely qualified to make her decision, she said, because she has extensive experience and knowledge on the topic of crossing streams during construction.
“I also reviewed testimony, photos, citations and recommendations,” O’Donnell said. “So I did some pretty deep digging.”
Her decision was based on the Massachusetts Stream Crossing Standards, issued in 2006.
“I’m really puzzled how the (magistrate’s) decision was reached, especially when the new standards directly addressed the use of open box culverts to preserve the stream beds,” O’Donnell said.
“That is awesome. That’s incredible. I’m excited,” Florida Town Administrator Sue Brown said after hearing of the acting commissioner’s decision. “I think it gives us a go-ahead and a better answer than we’ve had for the last two years.”
Both O’Donnell and Brown said that the decision can be appealed to Superior Court. O’Donnell said the appeal may be filed in Suffolk County Superior Court, where the decision was made, then could be moved to Berkshire County Superior Court.
Representatives of Green Berkshires could not be reached for comment.
Brown said that the concerned citizens who appealed the wetlands permit have said in the past that if the permit were reissued, they would appeal it.
“The question is whether they’ll be able to get an injunction” to stop the project during the appeal process, Brown said.
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff
21 June 2007
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