August 29, 2010

Berkshire Wind Utility lines nearly done; Lawsuit looms as last obstacle

By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 28 August 2010

LANESBOROUGH – Crews are nearing completion on work to connect the wind turbines on Brodie Mountain to the public electricity grid on Partridge Road, according to Western Massachusetts Electric Co. officials.

Since March, travelers have been contending with utility crews along Route 7 and Brodie Mountain Road as they install new utility poles and electricity distribution lines through Lanesborough, even as a lawsuit holds up final connection to the $46 million Berkshire Wind project on Brodie Mountain.

Sandra Ahern, spokeswoman for WMECO, said the $4 million project is “95 percent complete” and finishing touches are being completed along the Route 7 corridor. It has already been paid for by the wind project developer, Berkshire Wind Power Cooperative Corp. (BWPCC) – owner of the wind project and a collaborative of 14 members of the nonprofit Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co. (MMWEC).

“We have installed approximately 270 new poles to accommodate the new circuit,” Ahern said.

The project will not connect to the wind turbines until the lawsuit is resolved, she said, because they cannot get access to the wind project property. But work on the rest of the installation will be done by the end of the month.

“We will be finished with our work by next week,” Ahern said. “We estimate that there is approximately two weeks worth of work to complete the project once the legal proceedings are resolved.”

The lawsuit, filed by the Dallas-based Silverleaf Resorts, alleges that the special permit issued by Lanesborough for road access to the construction site had expired before the work began.

The Massachusetts Land Court issued an injunction against using the access road from Brodie Mountain Road to the construction site on Oct. 7, 2009, effectively halting construction of the wind project.

Negotiations between the BWPCC Silverleaf Resorts have continued since the injunction. According to Tyler Fairbank, a spokesman for the project developer, MMWEC officials continue to be optimistic that a resolution will be reached soon.

Once a settlement has been reached, he added, it will take another three to four months, depending on the weather, to finish the wind turbine installations and begin operations.

The new distribution line will take the power from Brodie Mountain, down Brodie Mountain Road and then south along Route 7 to a WMECO substation near Partridge Road eight miles away. The substation will also be upgraded to handle the new power supply.

Representatives of Silverleaf Resorts have said that the Berkshire Wind project threatens the prospects of their $62 million, 324-unit time-share condominium project proposed for a site at the base of Brodie Mountain.

Silverleaf wants Berkshire Wind to relocate three of its 10 turbines that are within 150 feet of the Snowy Owl Resort condo project’s property line.

Officials estimate that once operational, Berkshire Wind will generate enough electricity annually to power 6,000 homes.

To date, two of the 10, 1.5-megawatt turbines have been completed, five more are under construction, and three sites are ready for the rest. The turbines rise about 385 feet above the ridge line.

Silverleaf Resorts intends to the condominium project on the 1,080 acres of land around Brodie Mountain.

Silverleaf estimates that the condo project would generate $382,000 in yearly tax revenue for New Ashford and roughly $30 million in annual spending by visitors.

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