Wind farm raises worries about water; Residents of Clayton district want assurances aquifer won’t be contaminated
CLAYTON – Several residents in the town’s wind district are worried that construction of massive windmills will cause contamination of their wells.
The wind district sits on limestone bedrock, under which lies an underground aquifer that supplies the water. Under the project area is a moderate- to high-yielding aquifer that serves local landowners and the municipalities of LaFargeville, Black River, Brownville, Evans Mills and Theresa.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation made comments on the groundwater issue during the state environmental quality review comment period for Iberdrola’s Horse Creek Wind Farm.
“Because water enters the carbonate rocks rapidly through sinkholes and other large openings, any contaminants in the water can rapidly enter and spread through the aquifers,” it said.
Department spokeswoman Maureen F. Wren said the karst limestone in the region does not have plants filtering the water before it enters the aquifer.
In addition to recommending a detailed underground investigation at turbine locations and a construction plan including contamination controls, DEC will require a stormwater pollution prevention plan as part of a permit.
The plan would include measures such as using watertight concrete forms, silt and stormwater fencing, covered storage for chemicals and materials, and controlled washout areas for concrete trucks.
“We would require practices for any construction projects,” Mrs. Wren said.
But while DEC may take enforcement action if a developer did not abide by its permit, it could not guarantee well replacement for residents.
Town officials can’t make any promises either.
“We certainly want to ensure that any projects, wind or otherwise, that there would be proper protection for residents,” Supervisor Justin A. Taylor said. “But I can’t say what the safeguards would be.”
They said wind development has gone to the back burner since Iberdrola suspended its application for the 62-turbine Horse Creek Wind Farm.
Planning Board Chairman Roland A. “Bud” Baril said the SEQR process includes consideration of the groundwater issue.
“At some point in time, we would probably do something,” he said. “But we’ve been waiting for the developer’s responses to SEQR comments.”
After the SEQR process is completed, developers then go through site plan approval with the Planning Board. This is when the board would review the locations of individual turbines.
Mr. Baril said those who sign leases should make sure the lease protects their interests.
“It is not just the responsibility of the Planning Board and DEC,” Mr. Baril said.
For other residents, “It’s part of the review process,” he said. “To the best of our ability, we try to protect them, as well.”
With the temporary suspension of the 62-turbine Horse Creek Wind Farm, the residents say this is the perfect time to create strong protection for the water source.
“Now we have the time to address the flaws in the local law,” said Patricia Boorhas-Miller, vice president of the Environmentally Concerned Citizens Organization of Jefferson County. “Now we’re much better educated because we’ve been working on the SEQR review.”
For the 1,000 residents in the wind district and additional 1,500 within a half-mile of the district, Mrs. Booras-Miller wants to see certain protective measures. Those include requirements that developers provide emergency water and drill comparable replacement wells if their actions lead to aquifer and well contamination.
“We depend on the water to live,” she said.
By Nancy Madsen
Times Staff Writer
24 July 2008
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