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Federal agencies involved in UPC's wind turbine project

UPC Wind may have won state approval for its 16-turbine Sheffield project last month, but federal authorities of various agencies will also weigh in on the idea before the project can be built.

A letter from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the company informed UPC officials that unless they make changes to the project it will have to go through the more detailed and lengthy process of getting an individual permit rather than being allowed to build under the generic general permit for Vermont.

“Redesign or modification of your project may qualify it for authorization under the (Vermont general permit). If you are unable to, or prefer not to redesign your project, you may request that we begin the individual permit review process,” Col. Curtis Thalken of the corps wrote to UPC.

The Army corps’ letter is not a surprise or a problem, said Matthew Kearns, director of project development for UPC, which has substantially altered the position of its 420-foot wind turbines to gain state approval and lessen local opposition.

“We are in the process of making minor refinements to the project, all of which will reduce impacts,” Kearns said. “That process will continue throughout the fall.”

Then the federal regulators will evaluate, based on statutory definitions, if the changes are enough to allow UPC to proceed without getting its own specific permit.

A main concern of the corps is the effect of the project on wetlands, whose protection falls under its jurisdiction in this case. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the federal Environmental Protection Agency will also be involved in the review of the project, said Michael Adams, senior project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Vermont.

“Our main concerns are the impacts on the aquatic environment,” Adams said. “We look at a wide variety of impacts.”

“As far as I know, in Vermont the Corps of Engineers has not had to review one of these projects,” Adams said. The only commercial-scale wind farm built in the state so far, the decade-old Searsburg project, did not need review by the corps.

“The USFWS has indicated that inadequate preconstruction data has been collected to evaluate risk to birds and bats,” according to the army’s letter to UPC requesting more information. “Briefly discuss the data that has been collected and what additional data may be necessary to resolve the concerns of USFWS.”

UPC worked collaboratively with the state Agency of Natural Resources to study the likely impact of the project on birds and bats, and that data should be sufficient to answer the feds’ concerns, Kearns said.

“We have done work cooperatively with ANR that has produced a lot of useful information,” he said. “We would expect that that work would be sufficient.”

The project will continue to move ahead through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers process, Kearns said.

“Major construction work is still scheduled for next summer,” he said. “We are hopeful we will be ready to start work as soon as the Army corps and others give us the nod.”

The corps’ goal is to review and issue an individual permit within about 120 days of getting a complete application, Adams said. But it is not clear how long exactly that work would take in this case, he said.

By Louis Porter
Vermont Press Bureau

Rutland Herald

17 September 2007