LOWELL – Nearly 50 people from throughout the Northeast Kingdom braved drifting snow Wednesday evening to comment about the potential impact of building roads and leveling ground to make way for industrial wind turbines on Lowell’s ridge line.
Among those who spoke at Lowell Graded School was Mike Nelson, a firefighter in Albany who asked who would compensate his town if erosion limited the amount of water in brooks available to fight fires.
The meeting on storm-water runoff and construction permits offered the last chance for members of the public to stand and comment about the Kingdom Community Wind project proposed by Green Mountain Power and Vermont Electric Cooperative.
GMP wants to erect 20 to 21 large wind turbines on the ridge line. The project also includes upgraded transmission lines.
The utility has sought a certificate of public good from the state’s regulators on the Public Service Board. Hearings before the board concluded last month and a decision is expected in May.
GMP wants to begin construction this year and have the wind turbines operational before the end of 2012 to qualify for federal tax credits.
The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, part of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, called the Lowell meeting to collect comments about the storm-water runoff permit and construction permit requests. The state and federal governments regulate how erosion is controlled during construction. Representatives of GMP and VEC attended the meeting but did not comment.
The utility will use some logging roads on the mountain and need to build more to move the large turbine segments to staging areas and then to their locations on the ridge line.
In February, Gov. Peter Shumlin and his administration cut a deal with GMP. The utility will protect bear habitat in exchange for state support of the project from ANR.
Gordon Spencer of Lowell reacted to the deal.
“Has the governor pressed any in your department to expedite this process?” Spencer asked.
Burke said he could not react to each comment or question but said the department would consider each comment.
Spencer also asked if the department will monitor how blasting on the ridge line will affect aquifers in the area.
Roger Willey and Steve Clark, both of Lowell, said they are worried their springs would be affected.
Katherine Royer of Irasburg said she is concerned runoff would affect fishing in the Black River. She asked if biologists have checked the existing conditions for fish to compare with what conditions will be like after the work begins on the ridge line.
Steve Wright of Craftsbury said he moved here from Georgia.
“I came here looking for wild country to hunt and fish and to raise a family,” he said.
A fish biologist and avid fisherman, Wright said it would be difficult to believe that the kind of work needed to level sites to erect the wind turbines and to move them along the ridge line to their locations would not have an impact.
He also doubted the utility’s contractors would be able to contain the impact from construction.
“If we Vermonters care about these kinds of things in our lives, we should stop this from happening,” Wright said.
Nelson, the Albany firefighter, said the town of Albany built its school without a complete sprinkler system – because there is available water in nearby brooks and rivers.
“I have grave concern,” he said, that the work on the mountain will affect the water level in the town and hinder the town’s ability to fight fires.
Nelson asked who would compensate Albany if insurance rates go up.
“We would very much like to have that information addressed [by the department],” he said.
Jeannine Young of Craftsbury said the wind project should meet the restrictions on other developments under Act 250, especially those criteria governing erosion control.
“Cutting into a mountain will require significant protection from erosion’s storm-water runoff during construction and following,” Young said. “Again, how will the developers assure the public that they will protect the environment in this regard? What permanent erosion control measures will be taken after construction to stabilize the site from continued erosion?”
She also wanted to know who would oversee the work and who would be accountable if there are problems.
“Despite the governor’s push to approve the Lowell wind project, I urge you to hold this project to the strictest of storm-water standards and I do not believe the developers can meet the strictest standards,” Young said.
Shirley Nelson, who lives about a half-mile from where one of the turbines would be sited, said the state should not cut a deal to “mitigate” the impact of mountain top construction on headwaters.
Her husband, Don, asked if he had to inspect his own brooks every day during construction or if someone else would be monitoring runoff.
Dennis Liddy of Westfield, who owns a camp in Eden, said the slopes of the mountain range have thin soil that will erode easily.
He warned that severe storms have caused flooding in the past, recalling the runoff that cut off the Boy Scout camp at Mt. Norris. Liddy said these heavy rainstorms are not 100-year events but happen every few years.
“You are inviting monumental disaster,” Liddy said. “I strongly urge you to deny this storm-water permit.”
Heidi Rich called the degradation of mountain streams unacceptable.
Nancy Warner, head of Lowell Mountain Group which opposes the wind project, warned that other developers want to build more turbines in the NEK.
Two people spoke about the history of erosion in the area that had nothing to do with the wind project.
Jerry Green of Lowell asked where the critics were when the asbestos mine in Lowell was operating and the brook was full of tailings and dead fish.
At the end of the meeting, Aliena Gerhard of Craftsbury, co-counsel for the Lowell Mountain Group, said critics have struggled to have their voices heard during the regulatory process.
“They are representatives of thousands of other Vermonters who have not been heard. I am hoping the Public Service Board realizes the permanent impact this project will have on the Northeast Kingdom and the rest of Vermont,” Gerhard said.
She called the impact of industrial-size turbines more permanent than billboards, which are banned on Vermont’s roadsides.
“The mountains are the heart and soul of Vermont,” she said. “It is the duty of the governing body to protect them above corporate interests.”
Burke said he did not know when the state would issue its decision on the permits.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding