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NEK wind project clears another hurdle

(Host) Green Mountain Power has cleared more hurdles in its effort to build a large wind energy project on a Northeast Kingdom ridgeline.

As VPR’s John Dillon reports, the latest step has involved wetlands on Lowell Mountain.

(Dillon) The concept is known as mitigation. It’s basically a trade off. A developer agrees to protect more land elsewhere to make up for property that is damaged by the development.

Green Mountain Power’s Lowell Mountain Project involves tree clearing, road building and construction on a high elevation ridgeline. The area is full of springs, small streams and wetlands. The Public Service Board already gave GMP the green light for the 21 turbine project. But a few loose ends remained, including the wetlands issue. Now the board has approved GMP’s plans to protect 17.5 acres of upper elevation wetlands in exchange for each acre that will be filled in or altered.

Company spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said the board’s approval is a major step forward.

(Schnure) “It does get us closer to receive these final board approvals. We still have some outstanding permits from the Agency of Natural Resources for stormwater and water quality, but we’re getting close.”

(Dillon) The board’s approval came after the company’s landowner-partner did some unauthorized work on the mountain and by building a logging road and filling in part of a nearby wetland. Schnure said only about a twentieth of an acre was filled in. And the Public Service Board said the unauthorized work did not affect the company’s mitigation plan.

But a state investigation showed the landowner also built a logging road, installed inadequate culverts and cleared an area up to 170 feet wide along the road. The Agency of Natural Resources has issued an emergency order to address that problem and the damage to the wetland. Jon Groveman is the agency’s general counsel.

(Groveman) “The landowner is required under this order to take action and there’s attached to the order a very specific restoration plan and remediation plan for the wetlands impacts and the water quality impacts.”

(Dillon) The order also requires the landowner to remove the logging road and the culverts.

The towns of Craftsbury and Albany have voiced concerns about the project. Jared Margolis is their lawyer, and he questions how quickly the cleared forest can be restored. He says GMP’s goal was to keep the forest canopy intact, but now that’s now been partially cleared.

(Margolis) “This is obviously not a closed forest canopy when you’re talking 100 to 170 foot wide now swath of open areas on this land. And that causes increased fragmentation. And that needs to be mitigated and they also need to consider how that fragmentation is going to interplay with the 150 acres of clearing that’s going to take place as part of the project.”

(Dillon) GMP spokeswoman Schnure said the company will conserve an additional 170 acres to make up for the 14 acres that was cleared for the logging road.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.