Calling it “an obscene abuse of our environment,” Vermonters for a Clean Environment says erosion at the Sheffield wind energy development is threatening sensitive streams and their fish populations.
The group has posted dozens of photos, taken at the site over the past nine days, which it says document violations of a storm water runoff permit obtained by the developer, First Wind, from the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
The state says First Wind has not violated its permit. The developer is in the middle of constructing 16 turbines in Sheffield.
First Wind spokesman John Lamontagne says that when state inspectors visited the site Friday, May 6, “they were happy with the site and said it was in compliance with the permit.”
David Mears, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, said he had a quick briefing Monday morning with department officials who inspected the site on Friday. He said the section of the site where gravel roads had been completed to wind turbine sites that had been cleared and leveled “appears to be fully compliant with the permit.”
In a second part of the site, Mears said, “they’re still doing forestry work, cutting the trees.”
That portion is subject to a lower level of storm water runoff regulation, Mears said, “the same as any forestry project.”
There are some deficiencies in that area, Mears said. “But none appeared to have resulted in any harm to the waters of the state.”
Some areas which posed a risk to streams were pointed out to a First Wind representative, who agreed to correct them, Mears said.
“We’ll continue to monitor and evaluate the site,” the commissioner added. But at the moment, he said, DEC plans no further action.
Annette Smith, the executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment said the photos show “hundreds and hundreds” of feet of roads that were never stabilized when the site was shut down last fall.
“We’re talking about multiple failures here,” she added. “The sediment is running off into trout streams.”
Paul Brouha of Sutton, a member of the Ridge Protectors, a group that opposed the wind project and fought the storm water runoff permit in the state Environmental Court, accused Mears of splitting hairs by distinguishing between First Wind’s finished site work and the logging portion of its operation.
Ridge Protectors is currently appealing the permit to the state Supreme Court.
“What we’re after here is natural resource protection,” Brouha said. “I would say there’s been a large amount of erosion, and water has carried that soil into the streams, especially the tributaries of Calendar Brook.”
“We’ve got resource damage,” Brouha continued, “and more will occur if the site is not stabilized. That sediment flows into the Calendar Brook Wildlife Management Area.”
Calendar Brook is a native brook trout fishery, Brouha said. “It will be affected by that sediment. Fish and vertebrate habitat will be reduced in quality and quantity.”
Smith said First Wind should be subject to the sort of fine imposed on Jay Peak in 2007, after heavy rains washed pollution into streams from a golf course the resort was building. After considerable negotiation with the state, Jay Peak agreed to a fine of $105,000.
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