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GMP halts Lowell wind project over missteps

Green Mountain Power Corp. has halted preparation work on its Lowell wind project after discovering this week that a surveyor and a landowner violated Public Service Board orders by cutting down 10 trees and placing fill in a wetland.

Green Mountain Power notified the Public Service Board of the misdeeds in a letter Thursday. The company said both issues were discovered Monday, when officials from the utility and the state Agency of Natural Resources visited the site.

The issues pose at least a short delay for a $150 million project that has divided nearby communities between those who back the new power source and those who oppose construction of 21 turbines on the Lowell Mountain ridgeline. Green Mountain Power hopes to begin full construction Aug. 1.

The trees that were cut down were slated to be cleared to make way for a road leading to the project, but the company had not yet been granted permission to remove them. A surveyor who had permission to cut branches instead cleared 10 mature trees with a chain saw, utility spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said.

“They were cut too soon, and that was wrong,” she said. Green Mountain Power wrote in its letter to the Public Service Board that the surveyor was told to stop work until further notice.

In a separate issue, a landowner placed fill within a wetland and disturbed the edge of a beaver pond on property Green Mountain Power plans to use as a conservation easement for wild animals displaced by the wind project, the utility told the Public Service Board in its letter. Green Mountain Power said it immediately told the landowner to stop all work in the easement area.

The utility promised the board it would delay site preparations until the board resolves its violation. Schnure said the company will make whatever repairs are necessary.

Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz said her agency has been to the site and is assessing the damage. She expected to determine what consequences, if any, the electric utility would face. Markowitz said at the agency’s request, Green Mountain Power asked the Public Service Board not to give final approval to its conservation easements until the issues are resolved.

Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, which opposes the project, said the violations should be enforced by the Natural Resources Agency. But Smith said she doubts that will happen, because she’s become frustrated by state government’s acceptance of the environmental impact of the project, which she called “a level of destruction we’ve never seen before.”

“Today’s events are a symbol of what’s been going on since the project was proposed,” Smith said.

Schnure said how much the incidents will delay the project depends on the Public Service Board’s response.