SHEFFIELD – Opponents of the wind farm here continue to rally against the near-certain completion of 16 turbines along a ridgeline as mud season gives way to resumed construction.
The nonprofit group Energize Vermont this week issued an update about the group’s efforts – and the final legal challenge still pending in Vermont Supreme Court – regarding development of the wind farm by First Wind LLC of Massachusetts. The company has obtained all necessary permits for construction and began work last fall.
A group of people and nearby property owners in both Sheffield and Sutton have one final appeal pending – it failed to be upheld in Vermont Environmental Court this winter and was later taken to the state’s highest court. The appeal centers on environmental concerns connected with an amended construction storm-water permit issued by Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.
According to Lukas Snelling, Energize Vermont spokesman, the group is going to continue rallying against construction of the wind farm until the legal decision is rendered.
The wind farm will see 16 turbines, 420 feet in height, installed along a ridge line in Sheffield, which the group said amounts to 42 stories in building height.
“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,” said Energize Vermont’s statement issued Thursday.
According to the group, the project is taking place on steep slopes at elevations up to 2,500 feet, with five pristine head-water streams that provide habitat for native brook trout.
First Wind started the project in September and recently resumed construction, according to Energize Vermont.
Paul Brouha, one of the appellants in the pending appeal before Vermont Supreme Court, and a fisheries biologist and Sutton resident said, “Our concern is that despite pending litigation, First Wind has chosen to begin construction that may cause long-term and permanent harm.”
The appeal focuses on the belief by Brouha and others that the storm-water permit issued by the state does not go far enough to protect the ridge line’s pristine head-water streams.
Rob Pforzheimer, also of Sutton, said, “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.”
Stephanie Kaplan, the attorney representing the appellants, said, “Starting construction on a large development while an appeal is still pending is almost unprecedented in Vermont.”
According to Energize Vermont, “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 [which] 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,” Brouha said.
“The issues under appeal are relevant to other wind projects in Vermont, such as Green Mountain Power’s Lowell project, which has recently applied for similar permits,” according to Energize Vermont. “All of the proposed utility scale wind projects in Vermont are on high elevation sites with highly erodible 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 mountain.”
John Lamontagne, First Wind’s director of corporate communications, said, “The anti-renewable energy activists have already made these claims in court several times and lost. Despite the efforts of a small number of anti-wind activists, our project continues to progress smoothly.
“This project is creating economic opportunity, jobs and will generate clean, renewable energy that will go directly to Vermont homes and businesses. We are excited about our progress and to be moving forward,” Lamontagne said.
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