Vermonters Seek to Stop First Wind Construction
Wind developer continuing construction at Sheffield site despite permit appeal
Responding to First Wind LLC’s construction at its Sheffield project even while its stormwater permit is still under appeal, neighbors of the project filed a Motion to Stay with the Vermont Supreme Court seeking a halt to work at the site.
First Wind’s project calls for 16 turbines each 42 stories (420 feet) tall spanning a prominent ridgeline in Sheffield. First Wind has begun clearing as much as 80 acres of mountaintop forest land, building a network of more than seven miles of new roads to install the concrete turbine foundations.
The project construction is taking place on steep slopes at elevations up to 2,500 feet, with five pristine headwater streams that provide habitat for native brook trout. Work on the project started in September 2010 and began again recently.
Project neighbor, appellant and fisheries biologist Paul Brouha noted the importance of the timing of the Stay request. “Our concern is that despite pending litigation, First Wind has chosen to begin construction that may cause long-term and permanent harm,” he said in support of the Motion.
The neighbors argue that the stormwater permit issued by Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) for construction will not protect the ridgeline’s pristine headwater streams. The neighbors want construction to cease until the Supreme Court decides whether to revoke the permit that was upheld by the Environmental Court.
Rob Pforzheimer, who lives near the project in Sutton, expressed concern that First Wind is displaying disregard for Vermont’s environmental regulations. “This is a case of an out-of-state corporation with no real interests in Vermont flagrantly flouting our state’s legal process. First Wind and its funders are only interested in profits, not protecting our natural resources,” he said.
“Starting construction on a large development while an appeal is still pending is almost unprecedented in Vermont,” says Stephanie Kaplan, attorney for neighbor Appellants.
In September 2010 First Wind began site work in Sheffield even though the Environmental Court did not issue its final decision until four months later. During those four months, neighbors filed both a Motion to Alter and a Motion to Stay in an attempt to protect the site’s natural resources. They filed an appeal of the Environmental Court’s final decision to the Vermont Supreme Court in February 2011, soon after the final permit was issued.
The neighbors are challenging the permit that allows First Wind to follow only Best Management Practices (BMPs) to protect degradation of the streams during construction. They argue that because the permit does not require monitoring of the streams during construction it will be impossible to know whether the BMPs are protecting and maintaining the water quality, as required by law.
The Appellants argue that there is a likelihood they would prevail in Court because according to Vermont State law and the federal Clean Water Act, First Wind should have been required to prove that they comply with the Vermont Water Quality Standards (VWQS). The VWQS require pre-construction baseline monitoring and monitoring during construction for instream turbidity, water temperatures and pH, among other things, to ensure that no degradation of the streams is caused by sediment run-off from disturbed ground.
“Being able to detect and respond to changes in water quality is important because runoff from the site can scour the stream beds and smother aquatic life, including fish,” says Brouha.
The issues under appeal are relevant to other wind projects in Vermont, such as Green Mountain Power’s (GMP) Lowell project, which has recently applied for similar permits. All of the proposed utility scale wind projects in Vermont are on high elevation sites with highly erodable soils, steep grades, and pristine streams with high quality water that are at risk of degradation from major earth-moving and blasting that is required to construct wind projects on Vermont’s mountains.
Community energy non-profit Energize Vermont supported the need for the Stay. Spokesperson Lukas B. Snelling said, “The precedent that is set in this case has tremendous relevance to the protection of high elevation streams in Vermont, especially on mountains targeted for wind development. Vermont’s natural environment is too important to our entire economy to allow any developer to cut corners on environmental protections. The stay is necessary so we can sort this out.”
Snelling concluded, “The issue of stormwater runoff demonstrates how industrial sized developments on our ridgelines are at complete odds with protecting our natural resources. Instead of supporting projects that cause large scale disturbances, we need to foster Vermont-scale solutions. For instance, community and residential solar technology, with its rapidly decreasing price and flexibility in siting, are a much better fit for Vermont.”
Energize Vermont was created to educate and advocate for establishing renewable energy solutions that are in harmony with the irreplaceable character of Vermont, and that contribute to the well-being of all her people. This mission is achieved by researching, collecting, and analyzing information from all sources; and disseminating it to the public, community leaders, legislators, media, and regulators for the purpose of ensuring informed decisions for long term stewardship of our communities.
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Contact: Lukas B. Snelling
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