MONTEREY – After about a year of no activity, equipment is back on Allegheny Mountain this week at the site where Henry T. “Mac” McBride of Harrisonburg intends to build a 39-megawatt wind energy plant.
His company, Highland New Wind Development LLC, plans to construct an $80 million facility consisting of 400-foot tall towers on the McBride family’s 2,000-acre property.
The company got a building permit last Thursday for an estimated $600,000 substation, to include a transformer and circuit breaker, grounding grid, and 14×20-foot control building.
The contractor listed on the permit is Trumbo Electric Inc. of Broadway; engineer listed is Pete Malamer. A permit fee of $2,430 was paid to the Highland County Building and Zoning office, and building official Jim Whitelaw said the current land-disturbing permit covers site work for the substation.
The land-disturbing permit, issued last year, has a $139,348 performance bond the developer posted that Whitelaw has not released. That permit is to cover the construction entrance on Red Oak Knob, the road to the substation, the road between three turbines, clearing and grading for those three turbine sites, and the substation.
HNWD plans to build its part of the substation only, Whitelaw said.
This summer, Whitelaw had explained that although the land-disturbing permit was for all the site work, there was only enough bond posted for the first phase. HNWD would need to put up more bond money if it does further site preparation, he said.
Nearby landowners, scientists, and residents expressed concern earlier this year about HNWD’s Erosion and Sediment Control plan, and its Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan. Last fall, state Department of Conservation and Recreation inspector Mark Chambers made a lengthy list of required changes to prevent construction from causing harm to the Laurel Fork watershed on Allegheny Mountain, and keep sediment from disturbing the stream.
Prompted by a Dec. 21, 2009 letter to the DCR from Highlanders for Responsible Development, a meeting was held April 6. Attending were Whitelaw and county administrator Roberta Lambert; Lucile Miller, Pamela and Arthur Dobbs, Rick Webb, and Dan Foster, representing citizens; Gary Berti of Trout Unlimited; Leon Szeptycki of the University of Virginia law clinic; Sen. Mark Obenshain on behalf of HNWD; and DCR officials Lee Hill, Ryan Brown, Eric Capps, Jim Echols and Chambers.
Lambert told county supervisors April 20 that DCR had been reviewing a newly submitted E&S plan, which would be submitted to the county. Lambert explained DCR was waiting for Chambers to complete his review. “That will be coming to the county for review in probably three to four weeks for approval,” she told the board then.
DCR information officer Gary Waugh said agency staff has met with project engineers “to make some minor suggestions to the E&S plan. We have not seen the final plan – that is approved by the county.”
DCR will continue to make stormwater inspections of the project, he added. “The county will also be doing E&S inspections. The E&S plan and SWPPP are both living documents that are subject to change as construction and other variables change. As long as the project moves forward,” he continued, “DCR and the county will continue working with the contractor and site owners to keep the E&S plan and SWPPP up to date.”
In July, supervisor Robin Sullenberger spoke with HNWD attorney John Flora to find out where things stood with the project. Flora told him there were “ongoing confidential discussions of a proprietary nature” happening behind the scenes. “The implication is that the economy is having an effect … that’s what I’m reading into that,” Sullenberger said.
“There has not been a complete stoppage related to the project,” he added.
This winter, HNWD consulted representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Virginia’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to learn about the process for obtaining an incidental take permit. Early this year, HNWD said it would apply for one.
Tylan Dean at USFWS said Wednesday that as far as he knew, “they have not contacted us yet,” or applied for the federal permit.
Citizens and groups who hired the Washington, D.C.-based environmental law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal remain prepared to file a lawsuit in federal court against HNWD and county supervisors if the project proceeds without an Incidental Take Permit.
MGC attorney Bill Eubanks told The Recorder this summer his clients believe if construction begins or the county grants building permits, they will file suit immediately. Both HNWD and the county were notified of the citizens’ intent on May 14; only the county has responded, in a June 17 letter from its attorney Greg Haley, stating they should take up their concerns with the SCC, not the county, since the SCC undertook a detailed analysis of the proposal.
“It’s our take that the Endangered Species Act is not being violated right now, and it would be a waste of everyone’s resources to file suit until something happens with the project. But we’re ready to go at whatever time something happens, like if a permit is granted by the county or construction commences,” Eubanks said then.
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