BNE Energy Inc. of West Hartford has faced stiff opposition in its efforts to operate the first commercial wind farms in Connecticut, with local residents fighting the company’s plans to build 400-foot turbines in scenic areas of the state.
But now the windmill company faces what might be a bigger problem: the possibility that it cut down 2.3 acres of trees inside a state forest.
A state environmental protection official confirmed Thursday that the cut that loggers were supposed to make for a wind test site on a farm in the Litchfield County town of North Canaan might have been made across the property line. That would place the land within either the Centennial Watershed State Forest or the Housatonic State Forest in the town of Canaan. Department of Environmental Protection officials are not certain which forest the cut falls in because boundary lines between state lands are in the process of being redrawn.
After being questioned by The Courant about the clear-cut, Chris Martin, the director of forestry for the state DEP, dispatched a team of three state foresters, equipped with hand-held GPS units, to the remote, mountainous site the week before Christmas.
“GPS readings taken on the site show that this clear-cut was within the state forest,” Martin said. “But we need to do a complete ground survey to confirm these findings.”
If confirmed, the incursion could create problems for both the farmer, Matthew Freund, who allowed BNE to cut on his land, and the company. BNE is in the middle of a controversial application process in Colebrook, North Canaan and Prospect, where it plans to build the towers.
The 15,000-acre Centennial Watershed State Forest, which was acquired from the Acquarion Water Company in 2002, was the largest open-space acquisition in state history. It sits on the northern fringe of a vast, unbounded forest in western Connecticut that contains the Appalachian Trail. The forest was designated by Congress in 2006 as the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area to protect one of southern New England’s largest undeveloped and environmentally sensitive spaces.
“A 2.3-acre clear-cut on state land like this would raise serious issues that we’ll have to investigate,” Martin said. “We do not take this lightly at all. There are lands held in public trust and not for individual private gain.”
Paul Corey, one of the partners in BNE, indicated on Thursday that the preliminary findings of the state foresters may be correct.
“BNE Energy has recently learned that the property marker utilized by the private owners and the surveyor may no longer be accurate,” Corey said in an email to the Courant. “We have taken immediate steps to determine whether BNE has established the accurate property lines, and we are working with the Department of Environmental Protection to address any related issues.”
The clear-cut on a high ridge called Canaan Mountain was observed by a Courant reporter flying by in a light plane in early December. Inquiries were made at Litchfield Hills Greenprint, a nonprofit group sponsored by local land trusts and the Housatonic Valley Association that tracks local land use with satellite imagery and computer mapping. When Greenprint analysts concluded that the cut was probably on state land, the Courant contacted the DEP.
BNE Energy is a partnership between Greg Zupkus, a former aeronautical engineer and telephone company executive, and Corey, the former chairman of the Connecticut State Lottery and the former executive director of the Connecticut Department of Public Utility Control, who now practices energy law. Corey and his wife, Christine, the scheduling secretary for former Gov. John Rowland, are perhaps best known as the couple who gave Rowland a hot tub for his Litchfield County retreat, which was scrutinized as part of an investigation into corruption in the Rowland administration.
BNE’s wind-farm proposals have been controversial. In 2008, the company cleared two acres along a scenic stretch of Route 44 in Colebrook to erect a 180-foot meteorological tower to test the local winds. The company has submitted plans to the state Siting Council to build as many as six towers on either side of Route 44, near the Norfolk line, and community groups in both towns have vowed to fight the project.
Significant opposition also has formed in North Canaan, where in December the Planning and Zoning Commission denied BNE’s two applications for wind-turbine locations. North Canaan Planning Chairman Steve Allyn says the town needs a least a year to draft regulations for wind turbines and the board is particularly concerned about the noise that the turbines create. Allyn is also concerned about the environmental costs of building access roads across wetland areas and near protected state forests.
“The biggest factor is noise, and the fact that every homeowner within two miles may be able to hear these things constantly,” Allyn said. “I was in Stephentown, N.Y. recently, at least two miles away from the large wind turbine on top of the Jiminy Peak ski area in nearby Hancock, Mass., and the thing really roars.”
Mayor Robert Chatfield of Prospect, where BNE wants to build turbines on a 67-acre site, said that the town council passed a resolution in early December calling on the siting council to declare a moratorium on commercial wind farms until regulations can be drawn. Chatfield also has visited wind-farm sites in Cape Cod and said that he is supporting neighborhood groups opposed to the wind towers.
In North Canaan, dairy farmer Freund said he initially welcomed the idea of BNE building wind turbines on his land because he is now marketing a product that has become a hit in gardening stores across the country: planting pots made from degradable cow manure. The power from the turbines could have been used to run his “cow pot” factory, he said.
“I walked the land carefully with the logging company and I’m quite confident that they cut in the right place,” Freund said. “We are very cautious about cutting near our property line.”
But both DEP officials and Greenprint analysts said that property owners are frequently wrong about their land boundaries, and that the monument Freund used to establish his property line might mark boundaries other than his property. The DEP expects to be able to make a final determination on the location of the clear-cut within six weeks.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding