Although the Vermont Public Service Board has approved UPC Wind’s plans for a wind farm in Sheffield, some local opposition to that project and to commercial wind power in general has only stiffened.
A petition is circulating in Barton asking that the town plan be changed to prohibit all commercial and industrial wind turbine development.
Ridge Protectors, a group staunchly opposed to commercial wind towers on Vermont’s rural ridge lines has launched a petition drive urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take a hard look a the adverse environmental effects of the Sheffield project. The group also said last week that it will appeal the PSB’s decision to the Vermont Supreme Court.
Towers Visible In Barton
In Barton, Liz Butterfield, owner of the Barton Village Corner Store, noted that although none of the Sheffield project’s towers will go up in Barton, some are visible from certain areas of town, and Barton’s roads may be used for construction purposes.
“This petition basically reinforces that we don’t want to look at the ones at the end of Crystal Lake, and we don’t want the construction coming through,” Butterfield said on Monday. “And in the future, we don’t want wind development in the town of Barton.”
About 100 signatures are needed to bring the change to a vote, said JoAnn Stefanski, who also helped start the petition.
“This would be part of the town plan,” she said. “We wanted to get this in so the town could vote up or down. I think a lot of towns are in the same position as Barton; they need some protection.”
Butterfield said the town plan is coming up for review. So, this is the time to change it if voters choose. Members of the Ladies Home Improvement Society and others have been instrumental in trying to get the prohibition on wind power put to a vote.
“This is basically so we don’t have to go through all of this all over again if UPC or another huge corporation decides there’s another ridgeline they want to put towers on,” Butterfield said. “If it’s in the town plan, we’re hoping we won’t have to go through this big battle we’ve had.”
She said the plan would not ban private wind towers for home use.
“I consider myself very much a renewable energy advocate, but I don’t think we can sacrifice one part of the environment for another,” Butterfield said.
The Ridge Protectors’ petition, which is posted online, is addressed to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Concord, N.H.
“We represent residents and property owners in Vermont who are very concerned about potential adverse impacts to wetlands, vernal pools, prime bear habitat, birds and bats, and other wildlife, should the proposed UPC Sheffield Wind facility be built,” it says.
As of Monday, Ridge Protectors’ online site said that 56 people had signed the petition.
The PSB issued a certificate of public good for the wind farm in August, basically concluding that the economic benefits of the 40-megawatt project, which would lead to construction of 16 420-foot-high wind towers, outweigh its adverse impact.
Deena Frankel at the PSB said Monday that the case is technically still open, and the board cannot comment on it.
It certainly can’t comment on anything in the case that’s contested,” said Kurt Janson, general counsel at the PSB.
The PSB’s approval of a project doesn’t always amount to a green light, Frankel said. It’s not uncommon for projects to require other state or federal permits or review by other agencies.
In this case, an August letter from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to UPC says that the “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the aquatic impacts of the proposed project are more than minimal.”
It goes on to ask UPC for more information on how the wind project would affect habitat, streams, wetlands, management of preserved land, and the risk to birds and bats.
Rob Pforzheimer of Sutton, who wrote the Ridge Protectors’ petition, said it’s an attempt to get the Army Corps of Engineers and the USFW “to thoroughly investigate what’s going to happen up there because ANR didn’t do it.”
Raising Concerns Again
The petition basically duplicates the concerns the USFWS raised two months ago.
It says that studies at existing wind facilities “have shown high mortality rates for birds and, especially so, for bats. Not mentioned in the hearings nor in any developer studies is the fact that ducks, geese, and other water fowl migrate over these ridge lines and stop over in the wetlands in the Sheffield project area. Threatened species of interior forest birds come north to live here for the warmer months. We are very concerned that their habitat and nesting will be severely interrupted.
“Given the political pressure in Vermont and New England to construct renewable electric generation developments, particularly industrial-scale wind plants, we are concerned that otherwise thoughtful biologists and wildlife experts are being compelled to ignore their best judgment,” it says. “We encourage you and your colleagues in EPA and the Corps of Engineers to exercise your authorities to the fullest and hope that our state and federal officials will encourage you as well.
“Existing Vermont laws would normally prohibit this large scale ridge line development,” the petition says. “We should not adjust our standards for the sake of Ôrenewable energy’; all of us have an obligation to ensure that sufficient, scientifically legitimate studies are done before permit decisions are made.”
“We feel that the PSB should be a little less in the corner of developers and a little more into protecting the Northeast Kingdom,” said Jon Day of Newark, another member of Ridge Protectors. “I think this is to emphasize that the people who sign it really want this looked into seriously and to not be giving an out-of-state developer the go ahead to ruin the Northeast Kingdom.”
By Tena Starr
16 October 2007
Ridge Protectors: ridgeprotectors.org
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