READSBORO – A 450-page report released by the Green Mountain National Forest on Monday found little significant negative impact from the proposed Deerfield Wind Project in Readsboro and Searsburg but public comment is being requested before a decision is made on the project’s future.
An international company with North American headquarters in Portland, Ore., Iberdola Renewables is planning to build a wind-power generation facility with up to 17 turbines in Readsboro and Searsburg near Route 8. The project, which was granted a certificate of public good from the Public Service Board in April 2009, would produce 30 megawatts at peak operating conditions, or enough to power about 14,000 homes in Vermont for a year.
Because it would be built on mountain ridges within the Green Mountain National Forest, the forest service must review the National Environmental Policy Act to determine whether the proposal meets the criteria for permitting.
The supplemental draft environmental impact statement released on Monday follows a similar report released in September 2008 because of complaints that the 2008 report was finished before the Vermont Public Service Board issued the certificate.
In order to include comments released during that process, a second report was created. The newest impact statement looks not only at the proposal by Iberdola to build 17 turbines but several other configurations: A reduction by two on the ridge west of Route 8 for a total of 15 turbines and the “East Side Only” alternative which would place seven turbines on the ridge east of Route 8. The statement also considers a “do nothing” alternative.
The Public Service Board’s certificate, also called a Section 248 permit, was issued for a 15-turbine project.
In the environmental impact statement, four significant concerns raised by the public were identified: Damage to the soil and water; turbines killing bats and birds; the construction despoiling black bear habitat; and harm to the aesthetics in the area from the presence of the turbines.
The statement identifies as the “preferred alternative” proposal the 15-turbine project approved by the state but notes that only one of the significant concerns, about the black bears, would see much of an impact if another building proposal was approved. Even that impact was not considered great, according to the report.
“Although the alternatives under consideration differ in their potential level of impact on black bears and bear habitat, none of the alternatives would result in what would likely be an undue or unacceptable adverse impact to bears when examined in a context of the larger project area,” the report said.
The report also looks at how the Deerfield project would affect the area when looked at in conjunction with other nearby projects. Green Mountain Power already operates a wind-power facility on private land in Searsburg and another, the “Hoosac project,” is planned in Florida and Monroe, towns in Berkshire County in Massachusetts.
The report concludes that the cumulative effect of the projects was unlikely to have an effect on any of the significant concerns except, possibly, to the impact on bird and bat populations.
“This is not due necessarily to the anticipated mortality from the Deerfield project, which is expected to be relatively low and result in a small additive component to overall cumulative mortality. The primary cause for concern is the uncertain and unpredictable nature of bird and bat mortality from all sources across their ranges,” the report said.
The forest service will be accepting public comment through Feb. 18. Bob Mayer, project coordinator for the Deerfield proposal, said members of the public should be aware that the environmental impact statement and its findings would not preclude forest service staff from taking comments on issues covered within the report even if members of the public had come to different conclusions than the report.
Two public hearings are expected to be scheduled by the forest service to gather public input.
Colleen Madrid, the forest supervisor for the Green Mountain National Forest, could not be reached on Tuesday afternoon.
The decision from the Green Mountain National Forest on the proposal is expected to be announced early this summer.
To read the impact statement or submit a comment on the internet, visit the website at www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/greenmountain/htm/greenmountain/links/projects/nepa_project.htm?project=7838.
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